Postal commission rule defines a 'postal service'

The Postal Rate Commission has issued a final rule defining the term postal service, ending a lengthy public rule-making process.

The commission’s next step will be to decide which of the new electronic services that the U.S. Postal Service now offers fit that definition, which could heighten tensions between the commission and the agency that it oversees. The commission has authority to regulate the price USPS charges for any new postal service.

In the text of the final rule, the commission states USPS officials are unhappy with the commission for defining postal service broadly enough to encompass any number of electronic services that USPS might offer in the future. USPS maintains that the commission has overstepped its jurisdictional authority.

Under a definition of postal service that includes electronic services, the commission says it has the authority to approve or disallow such services and to regulate what USPS charges for them.

The commission set a Feb. 17 deadline for USPS to update the group's members on the status of 14 electronic service offerings that were the subject of a Consumer Action group complaint that led to the recent rulemaking. The consumer group had complained that USPS initiated the new services without the commission’s prior approval.

For all other services that fit the new definition of postal service, USPS must request the commission’s approval no later than June 1, according to the final rule issued Jan. 4.

The new rule takes effect 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register.

The commission said it will decide soon whether to hear or dismiss two pending complaints against USPS. One of the complainants is DigiStamp, which alleges that USPS is using its Electronic Postmark service to compete illegally and unfairly against small businesses that offer a similar Internet service for verifying the authenticity of digital documents.

DigiStamp claims that USPS violated its charter by not seeking prior approval from the rate commission before offering the postmark service.

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