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AOL and Yahoo! are to start charging for sending emails.

Both companies will still accept free emails but are offering the chance to pay to avoid their spam filters. By paying between a quarter and one cent per message companies will get preferential delivery of their messages.

So a "business class" email will go straight to an AOL-subscriber's inbox marked with a stamp saying "AOL Certified Email" while a free email will have to run the gamut of AOL spam filters. Free mails may also have images and web links removed.

Companies must adhere to a code of practise to send "business class" mail, and AOL and Yahoo say the system will help them reduce spam and phishing attacks.

The two internet giants are working with Goodmail on the project - Yahoo has yet to decide how it will route paid-for emails.

The news comes as the US Sentate meets to discuss issues raised by a "two-tier" internet - the Commerce Committee is meeting this week. More from the New York Times, if you're registered, here. ®

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