Postal Service Might Move Beyond Snail Mail

on November 18, 2011 at 3:31 PM

After a 200-year history of delivering snail mail, the U.S. Postal Service’s inspector general proposed Friday that going into the email business might help pull the agency out of debt.

According to the report, the so-called eMailbox would be run by USPS with security features, but there was no mention of crucial details such as how much it would cost or a timeline for launch.

“It’s probably a great idea but is there any money to launch it? Will it make a big difference to their financial mess? And the answer is probably ‘No,'” said Tony Conway, executive director of the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers. The USPS problem is a “multibillion dollar problem,” he added. “If they get wildly successful and make $10 million a year, it’s a drop in the bucket.”

As the Postal Service remains engulfed in a deficit-riddled crisis, Congress and many experts are frantically searching for new ways to save the agency from disaster.

If they get wildly successful and make $10 million a year, it’s a drop in the bucket.” – Tony Conway

This latest idea emerges as the USPS is looking at dealing with a $5.1 billion shortfall this year expected to more than double next year. As a result, the price of a first class stamp is increasing a penny to 45-cents and officials are considering cutting Saturday service, laying off tens of thousands of postal workers and closing nearly 3,700 post offices around the country.

Congress has delayed until Dec. 15 a required USPS payment of $5.5 billion to fund future retiree health costs. That payment helped precipitate the postal crisis.

The IG expressed optimism that the service could be successful and help the Postal Service redefine its role “in the digital age.”

It would be “a natural extension of the Postal Service’s role in the physical world, providing a digital service linking every American household and business in a secure, private communications networ designed with anywhere, anytime accessibility,” the IG said.

He noted that the USPS is the only one of mail services in 23 major industrialized nations that does not offer an email service but did not provide details on the successes or obstacles in other countries.

“And while there are private sector technology industry standouts in the U.S. that have developed widely popular e-mail services, the business models sacrifice consumer privacy in the interest of ad-based revenue generation,” the IG said.

The proposal includes the following details:

  • Individuals would use their full name, such as [email protected]. For common names, a number could be added to the end of the name so that the individual named John Smith would be [email protected].
  • eAddresses would assign easily identifiable corporate addresses such as [email protected] for a business and [email protected] for a local government.
  • Postal Service account managers or Bulk Mail Entry Unit (BMEU) clerks could work with businesses and government agencies to set up and establish accounts for corporate and government mailers.
  • Each consumer who registers for the eMailbox service will gain a secure virtual space for transactions and storage and be provided with secure hardware to protect their privacy.
  • This service could be expanded to include automatic updates to an e-mail address as well as a physical address.
  • It could be expanded to include highly secure data storage area service called “eLockbox” which provides added security for archiving legal and personal documents.