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ISPs Moving To Paid Email

Goodmail Systems announced last week that four major Internet service providers will be adding CertifiedEmail to their repertoire of email filters. The sweeping partnerships give Goodmail automatic access to some 65 percent of US inboxes.

Microsoft has yet to join the program, a deal that would boost that number to 85 percent. Bulk email senders wanting to bypass the spam filters at Yahoo, AOL, Time Warner Road Runner, Comcast, and Cox, can now do so for a quarter of a cent per email.

Or, as Goodmail competitor and third-party reputation service Habeas’ CEO Des Cahill puts it, at a cost of $2.50 CPM.

Goodmail unveiled its CertifiedEmail product last year amid a storm of controversy when AOL appeared to be forgoing its email whitelists (free sender reputation lists) in favor of fee-based Goodmail.

The press was quick to take note, calling the arrangement an email tax, or a kind of postage that could derail small online businesses and non-profit organizations that depended on bulk email. AOL decided to keep its whitelists after significant public pressure. Yahoo joined up shortly after AOL.

So news a year later that Goodmail is to be put into use at nearly all the major email service providers in the US (except Microsoft and GMail, which announced last year they had no plans to institute a third-party authentication program), sent déjà vu levels to new heights.

The most important question was: Do these email service providers have free whitelists and will they keep them? Or is Goodmail now the only option for bulk emailers looking to reach inboxes with images and links in tact?

Spokespersons with both Verizon and Time Warner have told WebProNews that they will continue to offer whitelisting and have no plans to phase out the free offering. Cox and Comcast, however, may be a different story.

“Cox does not have a white list,” Cox Communications Director of Public Relations Susan Leepson told WebProNews. “All email must go through our spam and virus scanning.”

That includes email Cox sends its own subscribers, continues David Deliman, Product Communications Manager for Cox. Deliman clarifies that Goodmail is not a postage-type company, accepting payment to bypass filters.

“Goodmail performs a strict background check on all senders,” he said, “and their CertifiedEmail is only available to legitimate organizations whose customers have already opted-in to receive e-mail from the company.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean that bulk emailers can have their messages delivered with images and links in-tact.

Comcast did not return request for comments regarding whitelists and whether or not bulk emailers would have a choice beyond Goodmail.

Though representatives for Goodmail and the ISPs that responded are heavy on the end-user benefit talking points (Goodmail’s Vice President of Marketing David Atlas was reluctant to speak to the sender-side of the issue at all), Cahill thinks there the monetary benefits shouldn’t be ignored.

“I think what Goodmail has proved is that ISPs want to make money off of email,” he said.

The ISPs involved wouldn’t speak to the financial arrangements between them and Goodmail Systems, but Atlas says they have a 50/50 split in revenue.

While these arrangements may be beneficial to the end-user (a recent study by the ESPC showed over half of respondents were open to authenticated email), and definitely beneficial to Goodmail and the ISPs in terms of revenue, what of bulk senders?

Atlas says non-profit organizations like the Red Cross, who needs protection from spoofing, can get up to an 85 percent discount. Small businesses, however, are not eligible.

“They haven’t proved that senders can afford to pay Goodmail and the ISPs,” said Cahill, who believes the phishing problem can be better addressed via the refinement of industry standards, which is what quarterly-held Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group looks to do.

Article by Jason Lee Miller, a WebProNews editor and writer covering business and technology.