Postal Service adds Internet route

The U.S. Postal Service plans to launch an online mailing program this week

designed to make mailing easier and more convenient, especially for those

running small businesses or home offices.

Under the Postal Service's NetPost Mailing Online program, customers

send electronic documents such as letters and brochures along with a list

of addresses to the agency's Web site. The Postal Service then securely transmits the documents and addresses via dedicated lines to a commercial printer, who prints them out, addresses, stuffs and sorts

the envelopes and deposits them in the mail.

"The goal is to make it easier and more accessible for our customers to

use our products and services," and NetPost is one way to do this, said

Mike Plunkett, manager of Internet messaging services at the Postal Service.

People no longer have to buy supplies, stuff envelopes and visit the post

office. "Now it can be done at the desktop."

The service is geared toward individuals, small businesses, home offices

and charitable organizations that may not have access to advanced printing

technology or who do not qualify for lower postage rates either because

the quantity is too small or they do not meet specific automation requirements.

Both the customer and the Postal Service stand to gain.

"We expect most customers to get a significant rate benefit [with NetPost,

and] we expect those pieces to be less costly for us to handle" than a single

piece of first-class or standard mail, Plunkett said. "We hope to get some

benefit by automating pieces of mail that otherwise would not be automated."

In addition, the agency plans to sign on more printers. It wants to

grow the network from the current two to about 25 print sites across the

country so that hard-copy mail can be entered at a postal facility closest

to the delivery address. This will save the Postal Service handling and

delivery costs, Plunkett said.

The agency plans a three-year experiment with NetPost, after which it intends

to make the program permanent. "I think if [the Postal Service] is going

to reverse the erosion of its revenues, it will have to find a way to use

electronic commerce to expand its product offerings," said William Kovasic,

a procurement lawyer and visiting professor at George Washington University.

"Experiments of this type are a limited way to test those possibilities."

Any program that increases the amount of mail delivered by the Postal

Service is a positive step, said a spokesman for the National Association

of Letter Carriers union. "[NetPost] sounds like a method to increase the

mail volume," he said. "If that's the case, we would be in favor of that."


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