Want to know something cool?

One point of view, taking note of sundry "cool" things that affect-- or could affect-- the education business.


Friday, March 03, 2006

Mail Tax Proposal Alarms Schools

Wouldn't it be cool to say goodbye to spam? Really, truly, be rid of those annoying messages that somehow avoid the spam filters and e-mail censors and find their way to your inbox offering increased stamina, discount V!4gr4, and superior endowment in the appendages? "Sure," you say, "less junk mail would be great." Well, America Online (known back in the day as "America On Hold") has a plan to grant your wish. How, you might ask, can AOL do this when so many others have tried and failed?

Taxation, friend. That's the plan, anyway. AOL is proposing to charge a fee to mass mailers that will guarantee said mailer's messages will survive the e-mail swirlie in the bowl of spam. Then, they argue, they can crank up the filters to Defcon 9 and prevent all unpaid, unsolicited mail from ever reaching you.

"Oh," you say, "so, like, any bulk mail would only come from 'legitimate' sources?" Well, yeah. If you define "legitimate" as "paid up." See, any schlub with a bank account can pay the tax, which some have forecast to be as high as one cent per message, the bulk of which will go to AOL.

(Clink the link to keep reading ... )

"Bah!" you say, "a lousy penny? Will that be a deterrent?" Well, yeah. Because your average spaminator zaps out millions of messages at a time. So those pennies would add up fast. "OK," you concede, "why is this a bad thing, then?" It's really very simple: lots of legitimate, non-commercial outfits ... like schools, say ... send out a ton of e-mail, too. Take a middlin' sized suburban Ohio district, let's say graduating 350 or so seniors this year. The district superintendent sends out a weekly bulletin to parents, teachers, and sundry such folks as might subscribe. Let's say, conservatively, that's 4200 students' worth of parents, teachers, grandparents, whoever. Safe to say six or eight thousand messages. Times 26 weeks that it goes out. That's over $2,000 just to send out a newsletter. Heck, it might even make more financial sense to print the dang thing and send it home with the chilluns.

Now let's say there's an event of some kind that prompts a need for immediate notification of all parents. Just for fun, let's say that some students at the theoretical district are caught selling theoretical drugs, and are arrested. There's a case where our theoretical superintendent would want to dash off a quick note. Not to mention maybe another one from the theoretical principal of the school. Maybe a different note to teachers. Is the district going to have an account with AOL that will automagically bill the superintendent's theoretical credit card for those messages? What about messages going to non-AOL accounts? Well, those'd still be free. So, wouldn't the district want to theoretically suggest that they could theoretically save some theoretical cash if the theoretical parents moved away from the very real AOL and had a different ISP?

Parenthetical note here: this treatise will not diverge into a discussion of the relative advantages and cost-benefit analyses of alternative ISPs. Doubtless some readers of this blog will be AOL subscribers, and we wouldn't want them to feel badly.

This e-mail "tarriff," by the by, would probably not deter at least some of the spamalicious content, because spammers might be willing to fork over some cash, assuming the laws of economics apply and there's actually a return on that investment (like the Nobel Laureate who has been bilked of more than $300,000 on a 419 scam over a period of years).

Apparently AOL is chock full of ideas to generate more revenue. They recently announced that they would increase the price of their dial-up service to be comparable to their own broadband access prices. That's right-- read it again: AOL is going to raise the price of their slow dial-up access plan to be the same as that of their high-speed broadband access plan. They claim this will actually make people switch to broadband. Well, duh! (But it probably won't be AOL High-Speed ... !)

Should you write your congressman to protest this e-mail tax? No, just cancel your AOL service. Then your school won't have to shell out money to reach you. Isn't that great business development thinking on AOL's part? Definitely not as cool as actually killing spam, though. Not cool at all.


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