Saturday, February 25, 2006

Another Network Neutrality Battle: Email

The latest scheme to violate Internet neutrality came in the form of an AOL and Yahoo announcement last month. The two content providers announced a service that would give bulk emailers the option to pay for guaranteed delivery of their messages. This approach -- called "certified delivery" -- is as much a violation of net neutrality as the carriers' bizarre schemes.

My contention is that any strategy that partitions the Internet on a "pay-to-play" basis is destined for ignominious failure.

Legitimate businesses that simply wish to use email to communicate with clients will find it difficult to cost-justify. Consider American Express, which may want to notify customers that annual account summaries are available. Will Amex really be capable of generating a business case -- with a per-email expenditure -- for this type of notification? I doubt it.

How about a newsletter company that depends heavily on email like IMN? This type of company drives sophisticated email marketing programs for large organizations that need to stay in close contact with their customers. With margins already thin, IMN would probably be forced to lift prices or create service tiers for their clients, giving them the option of the added expense.

Which businesses would be certain to pay for email? Probably only those that truly qualify as spammers, the returns for which could probably cost-justify the mailing expense. This will be the case for the same reason that telemarketing firms still do outbound cold calls: it pays, despite the do-not-call list and caller-ID.

Haven't we been through all of this before? NewsFactor mentions the ill-fated SenderID initiative:

Meng Weng Wong, CTO of the start-up, also is attacking the problem but believes the answer is an open reputation exchange... Wong previously [helped create] SenderID, a system designed to verify the domain of e-mail senders. SenderID has been invaded by spammers... "I am working on building an open reputation network that makes it very easy for people in the reputation and accreditation industry to share or sell their data... We need to get back to a world where I can e-mail a stranger and they can e-mail me and the mail gets through, and where I don't have to pay for that..."

The bottom line: I think it likely that the pay-to-play email model will result in more spam in user in-boxes, not less. And it's yet another reason that firms like AOL and Yahoo need to do much better scenario modeling. Unless, of course, they figure they can make plenty of cash charging for spam. In which case, they're destined to lose their customers anyhow.

NewsFactor: Certified Email draws Mixed Reactions

No comments: