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Another Side to the Goodmail Debate?

BY Micah L. Sifry | Friday, March 3 2006

I haven't quite made up my mind about AOL's so-called "e-mail tax," which Matt Stoller blogged about here earlier in the week (at my urging).

On one hand, it's hard to accept paying a price for a service that costs AOL almost nothing to perform, i.e. delivering email to its customers. And a "pay-to-send" system will definitely create a two-tiered internet, where email senders who can't afford the email surcharge will inevitably experience a lower quality of service, and the vibrant democracy of voices online will likely become much more stratified.

On the other hand, see what tech industry guru Esther Dyson has to say on her not-quite-a-blog (February 14, 2006 entry):

People are acting as if it were evil to ask for money for providing a service. Everyone is free to say no. Goodmail is not stopping any other mail...while, indeed, the proliferation of spam *is* de facto stopping other mail, because at some point recipients start deleting their mail carelessly...

She's right that spam is degrading the value of email (is this a tragedy of the commons?), and I bet that declining open rates on political email are related in part to that problem. But is the solution worse than the problem? Electronic Frontier Foundation's Cindy Cohn sure thinks so:

Spam is a real problem demanding real solutions, but taxing the Internet, even if the tax is "voluntary" and even if the money goes to ISPs, isn't one of them. The best solution is to put more power in the hands of users to control spam filters and a robust market in those filters. Allowing ISPs to auction off access to email boxes and ransom free speech solves nothing.

What do you think?