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AOL To Pay Bulk E-Mail Fees for Nonprofits

Less than a week after interest groups complained about a proposed bulk-e-mailing fee, America Online Inc. said nonprofit organizations will not have to pay to send mass messages to their members after all.

The Dulles, Va.-based company said Friday it would offer qualified groups a bulk e-mail service comparable to one that will be available to commercial e-mail senders. It also said it would pay the fees for the nonprofits and advocacy groups.

The company's original plan would have required all bulk e-mailers to pay a small fee -- ranging from 1/4 cent to 1 cent per message -- to route their e-mail directly to a user's mailbox without first passing through junk mail filters.

AOL, a unit of Time Warner Inc., said the system would reduce help reduce spam because only legitimate groups would be likely to pay the fee.

But on Monday, a consortium of nonprofit groups, including the AFL-CIO labor union and political group MoveOn.org Civic Action, blasted plans to charge for the service, claiming it would stifle communication from organizations that couldn't afford to pay.

On Friday, the DearAOL.com Coalition again criticized AOL's latest move, saying it would "create a two-tiered Internet with one standard of e-mail reliability for the big guy and an inferior standard for the little guy."

AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said the service offered to nonprofit groups would have the same reliability as the commercial service. AOL plans to contract with a third-party e-mail accreditation service within the next two months, he said.

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