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Fee to let e-mailers skip filters at AOL, Yahoo

SAN FRANCISCO -- Two of the world's biggest e-mail account providers, Yahoo Inc. and America Online, plan to introduce a service that would charge senders a fee to route e-mail directly to a user's mailbox without first passing through junk mail filters, representatives of both companies said yesterday.

The fees, which would range from 1/4 cent to 1 cent per e-mail, are the latest attempts by the companies to weed out unsolicited ads, commonly called spam, and identity-theft scams. For paying, e-mail senders will be guaranteed that their messages will not be filtered and will bear a seal alerting recipients that they're legitimate.

Both companies already filter e-mail by searching for keywords commonly contained in spam and fraudulent e-mail. AOL also strips images and Web links from many messages to prevent the display of pornographic pictures and malicious Web addresses. Both practices sometimes falsely identify legitimate messages as junk mail.

''We were hearing not only from members, but also e-mail partners that they wanted a different way of delivering e-mail that would stand out in the inbox and would guarantee them delivery," said spokesman Nicholas Graham, adding that AOL, a division of New York-based Time Warner Inc., will start offering the service in the next two months.

Spokeswoman Karen Mahon said that Yahoo will begin offering similar service in coming months.

While the plan is optional and would apply to only a fraction of people sending e-mail, it amounts to a reversal in the economics of the Internet, because it would charge message senders, rather than those receiving them.

AOL and Yahoo said the program, which is being offered through a company called Goodmail Systems, will target banks, online retailers, and other groups that send large amounts of e-mail.

The American Red Cross, the New York Times Co., owner of The Boston Globe, and credit report company Experian have signed up with Goodmail to use the service, Graham said.

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