In February, AOL announced a plan that would allow mass e-mailers to bypass AOL's normal spam filtering system and guarantee delivery to AOL subscribers in exchange for a per-e-mail fee. The plan has raised numerous objections from a variety of organizations as diverse as Moveon.org and the Gun Owners of America.Although I lean toward the pay-per-e-mail approach as I will attempt to justify in my next newsletter, I can see some merit to both sides of the argument. However, independent of where I stand on the issue, I want to offer my opinion on two key points that many seem to have been missed in this debate.First, many believe that the Internet should remain completely free as exemplified by a statement from a group of individuals, associations and companies united against AOL's plans. The group's open letter on the Dear AOL site, says: "AOL's adoption of Goodmail's CertifiedMail...is a threat to the free and open Internet."Like it or not, the Internet is no longer free - spammers and others have seen to that. While it doesn't cost anything to send an e-mail, enterprises, Internet service providers, individuals and others have spent billions of dollars and person-hours trying to rid their messaging systems of spam, phishing attacks, viruses, worms, Trojan horses, denial-of-service attacks, directory harvest attacks and all sorts of other unwanted garbage and access. The 'free' Internet is anything but - we spend huge sums just trying to keep e-mail systems usable and we will continue to do so for years to come.Secondly, what many seem to forget is that AOL is a for-profit corporation whose subscribers pay a monthly fee to access e-mail and other services provided by the company. AOL's infrastructure is not part of the 'free and open' Internet, but is instead a separate system owned by a corporation whose subscribers have paid for access to the 'free and open' Internet. Demanding that AOL not charge a fee for mass marketers to obtain premium access to AOL subscribers would be like demanding that a cable TV company not charge TNT or ESPN for sending programming to the cable company's subscribers. AOL's infrastructure belongs to the company, not all of us as Internet users.I'd like to get your opinion on this issue, regardless of where you stand on it - please drop me a line at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. I won't even charge you to do so!