Any time liberal and conservative activists join forces to confront a corporate behemoth for committing crimes against the Internet, you can be fairly confident the protesters have a legitimate beef ... except when they're completely out to lunch. Such is the case with last week's pointless caterwauling against plans by AOL to offer Goodmail's CertifiedEmail, a premium delivery service designed to help legitimate bulk senders get their messages through to their intended targets.Any time liberal and conservative activists join forces to confront a corporate behemoth for committing crimes against the Internet, you can be fairly confident the protesters have a legitimate beef ... except when they're completely out to lunch.Such is the case with last week's pointless caterwauling against plans by AOL to offer Goodmail's CertifiedEmail, a premium delivery service designed to help legitimate bulk senders get their messages through to their intended targets. Fronted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, MoveOn.org and RightMarch.com, a diverse coalition of 70 organizations has launched a noisy crusade to convince AOL to abandon the plan.AOL's response in a nutshell: Nuts to you. . . . Good for AOL.What do you think? Discuss in Buzzblog. Here's an excerpt from the coalition's open letter under the headline "Stop AOL's E-mail Tax": "We wish to express our serious concern with AOL's adoption of Goodmail's CertifiedEmail, which is a threat to the free and open Internet. This system would create a two-tiered Internet in which affluent mass e-mailers could pay AOL a fee that amounts to an 'e-mail tax' for every e-mail sent, in return for a guarantee that such messages would bypass spam filters and go directly to AOL members' in-boxes. Those who did not pay the 'e-mail tax' would increasingly be left behind with unreliable service."Calling certified e-mail a tax is an excellent example of the intellectually dishonest rhetoric that pollutes so much of public discourse these days. No one has to pay AOL a nickel if they're not interested in the premium service and their e-mail will continue to be treated exactly as it is today. . . . Try telling the IRS you're just not interested.As for second-class bulk mailers "being left behind with unreliable service," that will happen only if AOL executives decide they really don't want to be in the e-mail business anymore. Suggestions that the company will let standard service wither to prod customers over to certified e-mail ignore the simple reality that AOL has competitors.Fearing that perhaps I was missing an element of merit in the coalition's complaint, I turned to Paul Hoffman, long active in IETF affairs and director of the VPN Consortium.The certified e-mail service "is rope that AOL . . . can hang themselves with," Hoffman says, "but who cares?" Of those who object to premium e-mail services, he adds: "Of course they object; they don't want anything to cost them any money. Well, neither do the people who send spam.""We have known for at least five years that mailing lists will become less and less stable ways of letting people who want particular information (political, commercial or whatever) get it reliably. AOL has had multiple levels of 'known goodness' for mailing lists for years; Goodmail's scheme is nothing new or interesting."The degradation of mailing list deliverability was the motivation for many of us to work on [the Atom publishing format] in the IETF. Syndication feeds are not susceptible to spam, and they can be read by anyone, even those who don't have feed readers. The fact that neither MoveOn nor RightMarch has a syndication feed is probably just a temporary mistake on their part, and they will soon discover that their feeds are much more effective than their mailing lists."An e-mail bulletin from Richi Jennings of Ferris Research calls the criticisms being leveled against AOL "balderdash and piffle.""There's no substantive change here," Jennings writes. "If you're an existing sender with a good reputation, you should have nothing to worry about - well, nothing new anyway."But Jennings does see something new in the complaints."We suspect there's an underlying agenda to some of the moaning. There are some quasi-political and religious groups e-mailing indiscriminately and hiding under the flag of free speech. . . . We have no sympathy for senders who use those tactics."E-mailing me costs nothing. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org.The blog is Buzzblog.