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Antispam group rejects e-mail payment plan

Spamhaus says the e-mail charges planned by Yahoo and AOL will erode our freedom to communicate.

A leading antispam agency has struck back at moves to charge companies a fixed fee to ensure e-mails are delivered, saying it will erode freedoms.

On Monday, Richard Cox, chief information officer at antispam organization Spamhaus, said that "an e-mail charge will destroy the spirit of the Internet."

"The Internet has become what it is because of freedom of communication. Open discussion is what gives it value. There should be no cost for particular services, and e-mail should be free and accessible to all. This will disenfranchise people," Cox said.

According to reports, Internet giants America Online and Yahoo are planning to charge companies up to one cent per e-mail to guarantee delivery.

Paid-for e-mails would not go through AOL spam filters, meaning businesses could send marketing e-mails directly to the potential customers' in-boxes, without the risk of the mails being sent to a junk-mail folder or having Web links and images stripped, according to an article in The New York Times.

This wouldn't be a license to spam AOL and Yahoo users, though, as any company that used the service would have to show that under antispam laws, they had the right to send the e-mails.

Cox said that charging for e-mail services was unlikely to reduce spam.

"It won't reduce spam directly. AOL is already good at managing spam issues, and Yahoo is getting better," Cox said. "It may make it easier to filter mail, and may provide more resources for spam prevention, but it could also mean that people lose e-mails and so change provider," he added.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), the government organization in charge of enforcing antispam legislation in the U.K., cautiously welcomed AOL and Yahoo's move.

"If businesses are being charged, it will encourage them to keep their e-mail lists up-to-date. It could encourage greater compliance with (antispam) regulations, which is a good thing from our perspective," said Dave Evans, the senior guidance and promotion manager for the ICO.

"It may also discourage businesses from sending unsolicited e-mails, because if they have to pay, it will be more of a decision to make to send them. Businesses probably wouldn't want to pay for undelivered messages or e-mails that bounce back," Evans added.

Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from London.