Video: AOL, Yahoo to charge for e-mail

By George Lewis Correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/9/2006 8:16:49 PM ET 2006-02-10T01:16:49

Two big players on the Internet — AOL and Yahoo! — have announced a plan to charge for some types of bulk e-mail — a move they say will help cut down on spam and Internet fraud. But it's kicked up a controversy.

Spam — or junk e-mail — clogs our computers at the rate of 15 million unwanted messages each day.

Now, AOL and Yahoo! have a plan they claim will help customers separate the wheat from the chaff — charge legitimate bulk senders up to one cent per message to certify that those messages are not spam and will not be blocked.  The plan is voluntary. Individuals would not be charged for sending e mail.

“It's good for the consumer,” says AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham. “It's good for the e-mail companies.”

AOL and Yahoo! say it's the electronic equivalent of certified mail at the post office. Legitimate bulk senders, who pay, will get preferential treatment to make sure their e-mail gets delivered.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, thousands of fraudulent e-mails went out from people posing as collectors for the American Red Cross. So the Red Cross likes the idea of certified e-mail.

“We want to make sure,” explains the Red Cross’ Steve Denne, “that our constituents and supporters have the confidence that they are being communicated to by the American Red Cross.”

But Robin Pressnall, who runs a non-profit dog rescue shelter in Tulsa, Okla., called “Small Paws,” fears her e-mail messages telling people about dogs up for adoption will get lost in this new system unless she pays — something she says her business can't afford.

“I'm not even certain howwe would deal with that,” she says. “It would just be an amazing extra expense for us.”

Yahoo! Vice President Brad Garlinghouse says its version of pay e-mail will be limited, for now, to messages involving confidential financial information.

“These are messages,” he says, “like, from a bank or a financial institution. Your bank statement.”

And, at a penny a message, pay e-mail is likely to pump up the bank statements of Yahoo! and America Online.

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