AOL, the internet service provider, has been accused of planning to introduce an “e-mail tax” that could lead to a two-tiered internet.

An unlikely coalition of civil liberties groups, charities, non-profit organisations, bloggers and gun owners have launched a website,, to promote a letter-writing campaign against the service. They also threatened a boycott of AOL.

AOL said its CertifiedEmail programme was not a tax but an optional, voluntary way for large e-mail senders to pay to deliver authenticated, legitimate mail. It said it intended to launch the service within the next 30 days.

Goodmail, the provider of the new service, said last October that it was entering into a partnership with AOL and its rival Yahoo to offer a service that would send users e-mails they had opted to receive and protect them from spam and fraud.

Companies choosing to use the service would pay AOL and Goodmail an estimated quarter of a cent for every message sent to every e-mail address on their mailing lists.

“It looks like this is pay-to-play or take your chances with the spam filter – this would cost us thousands of dollars a week,” Eli Pariser, executive director of, a non-profit civil liberties group, told a media conference call.

Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said “if AOL pulls the trigger on this”, he would advise his members to boycott the service provider.

“Our members are already suspicious of government and corporate meddling in their private affairs; this would probably result in many fewer gun owners being AOL customers.”

Other protesters taking part in the call were the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Free Press, Craig Newmark, founder of, the Association of Cancer Online Resources, and Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media.

“We spoke to Yahoo! and they seemed much more tentative about this,” said Danny O’Brien of the EFF, explaining the decision to focus the protest on AOL.

“We felt AOL had planted its flag in the ground very clearly and that, if we could show the rest of the industry that what AOL is doing is wrong, we could nip this in the bud.”

AOL said other companies were looking at special handling and delivery of e-mail, including Microsoft and Google. It said the product would be another tier, similar to next-day delivery offered by the post office, that would not hurt the service for other senders.

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