Google announced recently that it will begin to charge businesses $50 per user, per year to use its premium Google Apps for business suite. Before yesterday, the service was free for small businesses. Thankfully, it will remain free for anyone who already has the service implemented into their firm; the new fee only applies to incoming customers. So why the new charge?

“When we launched the premium business version we kept our free, basic version as well,” Google explained “Both businesses and individuals signed up for this version, but time has shown that in practice, the experience isn’t quite right for either group. Businesses quickly outgrow the basic version and want things like 24/7 customer support and larger inboxes. Similarly, consumers often have to wait to get new features while we make them business-ready.”

Starting now, new individual customers can continue to create free personal Google accounts. Businesses no longer have the option of choosing between a free or paid model. There’s one model for companies of all sizes and the tool is officially called “Google Apps for Business.” It provides 24/7 phone support, a 25GB inbox and a 99.9% uptime guarantee. As we noted above, pricing is $50 per year per user.

[via Google]