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Solution To SpamThe fundamental problem with spam is that the recipient pays to receive the messages, while the sender can put out millions of messages at essentially zero cost. Even if the tiniest percentage of spam recipients ever respond, that still makes it worthwhile for the bulk spammers. Spam is more than just a nuisance, it consumes a growing percentage of bandwith and costs a lot of money to try and block it. Spam is so pervasive it threatens to make email simply useless.
Current solutions amount to an arms race between the spammers and the spam filters; each time the filters get better the spammers figure a way around them. Even worse is the fact that spam filters can also filter out wanted messages. If you're running a business, you can't afford to miss any of those. A 1% false positive from the spam filter makes it useless.
Various legislative proposals have been put forward to try and deal with spam, but all of them are fundamentally flawed either in being impossible to implement (since the internet is a global system) or impossible to enforce.
The only real solution is to find a way to switch the costs of sending spam from the recipient to the sender. Even a tiny cost per email will rapidly render most spam uneconomic. What follows is my proposal for implementing this.
A Penny An EmailIf sending an email cost $.01, the vast majority of spam will become uneconomic for the sender. For email users, the additional cost will be trivial, and likely far less than what they spend in time and money on spam filters.
To make the cost even more irrelevant to users, users can have whitelists. If an email sender is on the whitelist, they are not charged the penny. Furthermore, the penny cost of sending emails can be creditted to the user's ISP bill. So, receiving email can actually result in lower bills for users.
Users can individually decide if they want to accept or not emails from users who won't pay the penny, and they can individually decide if they want to pay the penny or not when they sent email.
How To ImplementTo make this work, a system of micropayments needs to be established. The obvious way to do this is for the ISP to do it. All the email to a user flows through that user's ISP, so it is the natural candidate for doing the accounting. The ISP is already set up to bill the user monthly, so it's just another line item on that bill.
Of course, not all email originates and is delivered to email accounts entirely within their ISP. ISP's will therefore need to have reciprocal agreements with each other on the penny charges, and can 'settle up' with each other monthly.
What's in it for the ISP's to do this? The penny charges can be split with the ISP. Given the volume of email, that should be an attractive profit center for the ISP, enough to justify implementing the system.
StagesThis is worthwhile to implement even for one ISP. An ISP can implement it within its own email system. Other ISP's will have an incentive to join in the system, both for the revenue from the emails and as a service in demand from their customers.
Eventually, ISP's that refuse to cooperate will become isolated, and few will accept email originating from them anymore.
BugsThe biggest problem I can see with this is the problem of forged email return addresses. I am not an expert on internet email routing, but isn't it possible for routers at each step of the transmission of email to be programmed to reject email that doesn't come from where it says it did? This should be a solvable technical problem.