Who Will Pay to Send E-Mail?

There’s been too much talk about solving spam by forcing emailers to pay to send email. Let’s stop talking and examine the options for making this actually happen.

Before we conduct this exercise, bear in mind anyone can get a block of IP addresses, set up some servers, and become an ISP or a bulk emailer. Costs are minimal. There are no specific taxes or legal restraints to online operations.

Let me outline three different models for paid email delivery.

Intergovernmental Agency Model

The United States was once a loosely knit confederacy. It had different postal rates and carrier fees throughout the country. It wasn’t dissimilar to the current ISP-server and user-fee structure. It took an act of Congress to institute common charges and create a single entity responsible for speed and efficiency across the network.

The postal model can be applied to a new entity that would regulate ISP connections and require a “stamp” for email communications. If you’ve been following the congressionally approved Patriot Act and the Total Information Awareness (TIA) proposal, you know Big Brother isn’t far from monitoring all email traffic. The government could easily create an entity to regulate delivery.

Free-Market Business Model

ISPs could create a United Nations-type body to jointly determine a market-based solution for the collection of email delivery fees. Discussions about this idea always end with U.S. antitrust issues. Any agreement would have to be global. Enforcement mechanisms must exist to force violators (rogue ISPs) off the network. Take off the rose-colored glasses. It would be easier to herd cats.

Some free-market proposals do have merit. If top ISPs agreed to use one or more confirmed delivery providers (e.g., ePrivacy Group/TrustE’s Trusted Sender Program, IronPort’s Bonded Sender Program, or Habeas’s Sender Warranted Email Program), an incentive would exist to guarantee email delivery, and resources would be directed to anti-spam efforts. This proposals wouldn’t end spam but would combat it.

The folks who helped invent the Internet (no, not Al Gore), The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), has created the Anti-Spam Research Group (ASRG). ASRG’s discussion archives contain many proposals to create standards that would redefine Internet architecture. If the IETF group could create an ISP-endorsed “SMTP header code” or a similar standard, ISPs could charge emailers to use the codes and eliminate delivery of non-coded email.

Finally, there’s the market-based domino solution. If the top 10 ISPs agreed to set a delivery quota and charge users who exceed it, other ISPs could follow. The model exists with free email providers who charge to host additional volume. Enterprise delivery quotas would exist for publishers or marketers. ISPs would agree on delivery “handshakes” that guarantee email passes through their filters.

Grassroots User Model

Leave it to the Aussies to start a global revolution. Ever visited Cashramspam.com? It’s reminiscent of AllAdvantage.com and other pay-for-use services. E-mail users implement personal “white lists” for friends and legitimate, permission email. Everyone else pays for delivery. Users name their own price for various types of email. If you’re mildly interested in Viagra, charge a penny. Hate mortgage offers? Charge a dollar. There’s a model here. It’s likely some bulk emailers would accept a delivery payment request.

Of course, dozens of email monitoring services, such as Mailshell and SpamCop, offer personal white lists and auto-responder options to authenticate senders. Eventually, these services could offer a pay-for-confirmation option. Legitimate marketers might pay if it guaranteed their email would be delivered.

Would you pay to guarantee delivery? Do any of these proposals have merit? Would you pay to eliminate spam? E-mail your comments!

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