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Political rivals unite against 'premium spam'

February 24, 2006

The coalition aimed at putting a stop to AOL and Yahoo's plans to charge fees to mass e-mailers will be sponsored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and it will include two political adversaries: the liberal MoveOn.org and the conservative RightMarch.com political action committees.

"We have been putting together a rather large coalition of groups from across the spectrum," said Cindy Cohn, legal director with the EFF. "They are mainly nonprofit or political groups or small business concerns... They're all people who can't afford to pay to get their message across."

The coalition wants the two Internet giants to abandon plans to adopt an e-mail certification system developed by Goodmail Systems Inc. that could relegate some e-mail to second class status, Cohn said.

With Goodmail CertifiedEmail, senders pay a fee in order for their messages to receive preferential treatment in AOL and Yahoo in-boxes.

"The very existence of online civic participation and the free Internet as we know it are under attack by America Online," wrote the liberal MoveOn.org in its alert, sent out to members Wednesday.

MoveOn.org has started an online petition calling for AOL to abandon the service.

The conservative RightMarch.com, which was formed in response to MoveOn.org's 2003 "Virtual March on Washington", on Wednesday called on its members to contact Yahoo and AOL headquarters, "demanding that they abandon their plans for a 'pay-to-speak' system.

"We spend thousands of dollars a month on e-mail delivery services to make sure all of our members receive our alerts. And very soon, thanks to AOL and Yahoo, we might not be able to afford sending them," said the RightMarch.com alert.

By Thursday, RightMarch.com members had sent more than 28,000 e-mail messages opposing the Goodmail service, said RightMarch.com President William Greene.

RightMarch.com sends between 2 million and 3 million e-mail messages per week and one-third of its members use Yahoo or AOL e-mail addresses, said RightMarch.com's Greene.

Concern that it would suddenly have to pay for all of those messages prompted the organization to join the EFF coalition, Greene said. "We're just a grassroots-based organization; we don't have any big funders," he said. "This is a huge issue for us."

Green admitted that it was unusual to see both his group and MoveOn.org united on an issue. "It's one of those dogs and cats living together kind of things," he said.

MoveOn.org is also a coalition member, according to MoveOn.org Executive Director Eli Pariser.

Cohn from EFF could not reveal how many members had joined the effort to date, but she said that next week's announcement would feature a diverse group. "Itís going to be not only right and left, but up, down, every way you go," she said.

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