April 21, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 16
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Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project opposes AOL's proposed 'Email Tax'
Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project opposes AOL's proposed 'Email Tax'
AOL's pay-to-send proposal would hurt the free and open Internet, which has provided lifesaving information on preventing and treating HIV/AIDS, and demands an end to the blockage of coalition email by AOL.

The Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP) has joined an unlikely coalition of more than 600 organizations fighting back against America Online's proposed "email tax," which threatens the free and open Internet and the ability of the little guy to communicate online.

The Coalition includes charities, nonprofits, local community groups, small businesses, political groups from across the spectrum, and Internet advocates - all of whom signed an "Open Letter To AOL" at opposing AOL's proposed pay-to-send email plan. Joining CHAMP are Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, the Association of Cancer Online Resources, the AFL-CIO, Gun Owners of America, Civic Action, and Internet advocates such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Free Press, among others.

Today, it was confirmed that AOL is blocking delivery to AOL customers of all emails that include a link to Over 150 people who signed a petition to AOL tried sending messages to their AOL-using friends, and received a bounceback message informing them that their email "failed permanently."

"AOL's pay-to-send proposal would hurt any group that uses the Internet to communicate, and it's clear that they are not acting from a principled stance on any of this." said Julie Davids, CHAMP's Executive Director. "We can't afford to pay AOL's email tax, and we can't afford to have our emails go undelivered if we don't pay. Our members depend on getting emails from us and AOL's proposal threatens the free and open Internet which has allowed groups like ours to survive online."

AOL's pay-to-send proposal would allow commercial mass-emailers to pay to bypass spam filters and get guaranteed delivery into the inboxes of AOL customers. This would create a two-tiered Internet where those who didn't pay to send each email would be left with less reliable email - with more and more legitimate emails going undelivered. This would hurt groups like CHAMP, which is dedicated to the fight for better HIV prevention research and policies, and uses email to share information on HIV prevention worldwide.

CHAMP has established the Kiyoshi Kuromiya Fellowship in AIDS Policy in memory of the ground-breaking civil rights, gay liberation and AIDS activist who developed early strategies of using the internet to spread lifesaving information on HIV/AIDS. They have dedicated their work in this campaign in his memory, knowing that he would have urged colleagues to understand that AOL can not be trusted to put the free and open internet over their self-interest.

"The AIDS B.B.S., which pre-dated the world-wide web, was one of the first non-military uses of the emerging internet technology," noted Davids, who was mentored by Kuromiya until his death in 2000. "Kiyoshi, founder of that service and the Critical Path AIDS Project, recognized that the internet would be the best way to connect people fighting a life-threatening condition. He stood up against internet censorship, successfully testifying against the Communication Decency Act that would have limited access to HIV prevention information, and would be at the front lines of this battle with AOL."

The Silicon Valley-based San Jose Mercury News recently warned that AOL's pay-to-send proposal "is likely to work as an incentive for AOL to move as many senders as possible to the paid system&The temptation would be to neglect the free e-mail system, whose reliability would decline. Eventually, everyone would migrate to the fee-based system. There would be no way around the AOL tollbooth."

Many organizations are joining CHAMP in calling for the preservation of the free and open Internet. In some cases, the consequences of unreliable email delivery for health care service and advocacy organizations would be extraordinarily harmful.

"AOL's email tax could potentially block every AOL subscriber suffering from any form of cancer from receiving potentially life-saving information," said Gilles Frydman, head of the Association for Cancer Online Resources, a coalition member which sends more than 1.5 million emails to cancer patients and caregivers every week.

The Coalition plans to educate the public about this issue, and has already been reported on in over 400 media outlets across the globe. Organizations and individuals can sign the "Open Letter to AOL," get more information, and learn how to contact AOL at

A CHAMP press release

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