A leading anti-spam agency has hit out at moves to charge companies a fixed fee to ensure emails are delivered, saying it will erode freedoms.
On Monday, Richard Cox, chief information officer of anti-spam organisation Spamhaus, said that "an email 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 email should be free and accessible to all. This will disenfranchise people," said Cox.
According to reports, Internet giants AOL and Yahoo are planning to charge companies up to a cent, which at the moment equates to just over half a penny, per email to guarantee delivery.
Paid-for emails would not go through AOL spam filters, meaning businesses could send marketing emails directly to the potential customers' inboxes, without the risk of the mails being sent to a junk mail folder or having Web links and images stripped, according to an article The New York Times.
This wouldn't be a licence to spam AOL and Yahoo users, though, as any firm that used the service would have to show that under anti-spam laws they had the right to send the emails.
Cox said that charging for email services was unlikely to reduce spam despite what he thinks AOL and Yahoo will claim.
"It won't reduce spam directly. AOL is already good at managing spam issues, and Yahoo is getting better," said Cox. "It may make it easier to filter mail, and may provide more resources for spam prevention, but it could also mean that people lose emails, and so change provider," Cox added.
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), the government organisation in charge of enforcing anti-spam legislation in the UK, cautiously welcomed AOL and Yahoo's move.
"If businesses are being charged it will encourage them to keep their email lists up-to-date. It could encourage greater compliance with [anti-spam] regulations, which is a good thing from our perspective," said Dave Evans, senior guidance and promotion manager for the ICO.
"It may also discourage businesses from sending unsolicited emails, 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 emails that bounce back," Evans added.