30,000 Email Users Sign Open Letter

San Francisco - Despite AOL's attempt to divide its critics, the DearAOL.com Coalition announced Monday it has grown tenfold from 50 organizations to more than 500 as it fights AOL's controversial plan to create a two-tiered Internet that leaves the little guy behind.

Last week, AOL's proposed "email tax" came under fire from a coalition of political groups on the left and right, businesses and non-profits, charities, and Internet advocacy organizations. More than 400 publications around the world published articles about AOL's plan to allow large mass-emailers to pay to bypass AOL's spam filters and get guaranteed delivery directly into the inboxes of AOL customers—leaving the little guy behind with increasingly unreliable second-tier Internet service.

In just several days, the DearAOL.com Coalition grew to include everything from babysitting co-ops to pony clubs, from farmers markets to biker dailies, from Hawaiian skateboard makers to church groups—demonstrating that small, large, ordinary and extraordinary groups depend on free email delivery. All coalition members are located at www.dearaol.com.

Clearly worried by the coalition's growing momentum, AOL on Friday tried to repackage its already existing "Enhanced Whitelist" as if it were a new program for nonprofits. It also tried to divide the coalition with an offer to give special email privileges to some "qualified" nonprofits while leaving other non-profits, charities, small businesses, and even neighbors with community mailing lists behind. Neither of these addresses the core of the problem: AOL's increased financial incentive to downgrade ordinary email delivery.

"I don't take bribes," said Gilles Frydman, Executive Director of the Association of Cancer Online Resources, a free nonprofit online service for cancer patients. "The solution is not AOL offering a few of us service for free in exchange for our silence—the solution is preserving equal access to the free and open Internet for everyone."

If anything, the net result of AOL's Friday announcement was that they conceded the central point of the DearAOL.com Coalition.

"By offering to move a few of the little guys from the losers circle to the winners circle, AOL conceded the broader point of our coalition—that AOL's would create a two-tiered Internet that leaves many behind with inferior service," said Adam Green, a spokesperson for MoveOn.org Civic Action.

This weekend, the San Jose Mercury News exposed this reality in an editorial entitled, "Paid e-mail will lead to separate, unequal systems free systems will become neglected." It identified AOL's threat to the "free and open" Internet this way: "the temptation would be to neglect the free e-mail system, whose reliability would decline. Eventually, everyone would migrate to the fee-based system. There would be no way around the AOL tollbooth."

"Perversely, AOL's pay-to-send system would actually reward AOL financially for degrading free email for regular customers as they attempt to push people into paid-mail," said Danny O'Brien, Activism Coordinator for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "AOL should be working to ensure its spam filters don't block legitimate mail, not charging protection money to bypass those filters and offering band-aids to allow some select nonprofits to bypass them as well."

"AOL's pay-to-send scheme threatens the free and open Internet as we know it," said Timothy Karr, campaign director of Free Press, a national, nonpartisan media reform organization. "The Internet needs to be a level playing field. The flow of online information, innovation and ideas is not a luxury to be sold off to the highest bidder."

The DearAOL.com Coalition:

San Jose Mercury News editorial:


Danny O'Brien
Activism Coordinator
Electronic Frontier Foundation

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