AOL, the Internet service provider unit of Time Warner Inc., on Friday said it will not charge legitimate not-for-profit organizations and advocacy groups to have their e-mails authenticated and delivered to consumers.
The decision addresses an outcry from political and civic activist groups, which said AOL's plans to charge mass senders of e-mail a fee to reduce junk mail amounted to an "attack" on the "free existence of online civic participation."
The company said that it is seeking to make it "crystal clear" that nonprofit groups would have all their e-mails delivered, including enabled Web-links and images, contrary to recent criticism in the media by advocacy groups.
"There will be no requirement, ever, for not-for-profits who deliver e-mail to AOL members to pay for e-mail certification and delivery," Charles Stiles, AOL's Postmaster, said.
The company said it is also offering to pay for the e-mails of qualifying groups to be validated by a third party.
"AOL may never see eye to eye with organizations who say there must never be a system such as certified mail," an AOL spokesman said. "But we believe it will benefit consumers by tackling problems such as identity theft and phishing."
AOL is working with the Goodmail Certified E-mail program, which authenticates e-mail messages allowing the delivery of images and hyperlinks on most high-volume messages.
Earlier this week the advocacy groups Electronic Frontier Foundation and MoveOn.org called the plan a tax on e-mail.
MoveOn sent an e-mail to its membership claiming the "very existence of online civic participation and the free Internet as we know it are under attack by America Online."
It claimed that among others, charities and civic organizing groups with mailing lists would be left with "inferior" Internet service unless they proved willing to pay the "e-mail tax" to AOL, a claim the service provider denies.
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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