USPS explores delivering residential mail online

In an attempt to further harness the power of the Internet to improve communication,

the U.S. Postal Service said it's exploring the possibility of offering

consumers the ability to have their mail delivered electronically.

USPS spokeswoman Sue Brennan said such a service — which would link

customers' electronic addresses with their physical addresses — would allow

consumers and businesses to choose the way they do business with the Postal

Service.

"Under this [voluntary] system, a customer would come to the Postal

Service and fill out a questionnaire designating which companies [including

utilities, credit card companies and retailers] he would like to receive

electronic mail from," she said, "The service would be a sender-based model

because the sender would then have to pay to send mail to the customer.

For example, L.L. Bean could pay to send an electronic version of its catalog

to a customer, rather than pay to send it to a physical address."

Brennan said the USPS believes the fact that senders would have to pay

to send electronic mail to consumers will prevent spamming. But, she stressed,

the idea is only in the exploratory stage.

"We are in no position to launch this in the near future," she said.

To take advantage of the service, Brennan said, residents would need

an Internet connection and either a private e-mail address — such as one

from America Online Inc., Yahoo Inc. or another ISP — or sign up for a free

e-mail account offered by the USPS. Brennan said consumers could access

their mail through their Postal Service e-mail accounts, or have it forwarded

to their private accounts.

The Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) — a Washington,

D.C.-based association that represents computer industry vendors including

Yahoo, Intuit Inc. and Netscape Communications Corp. — is concerned about

how well customer information will be protected and the impact of the government

entering into competition with private-sector e-commerce companies.

"This is just part of a broad array of services the Postal Service is

planning to get involved in in the area of e-commerce. We don't see the

need for a government agency to get involved in a robust [market]," said

Jason Mahler, CCIA vice president and general counsel. "We don't think [private

companies] should have to compete with the government."

Brennan wouldn't comment on the competitive aspect, but did say that

customers' privacy would be protected.

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