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European Postal Services are Embracing the Internet
USPS needs to follow their lead and develop a national e-mail address.

25 February 2003
As Europeans move to the Internet, so are European postal services. In bids to stay relevant in the 21st century, postal services throughout the European continent are embracing the Net (and their customers) by offering Internet access, free e-mail, integrated business solutions that merge traditional mail and the Internet, and other Internet-related services. These strategies, which have been somewhat successful in Europe, could provide a vision for the United States Postal Service (USPS) in the 21st century.

Many European postal services are now offering e-mail and a national e-mail address to their citizens. The USPS has long bounced around an idea for a national e-mail address. Several years ago, the USPS released its e-mailbox proposal, where virtually every American would be assigned a free e-mail address corresponding to their postal address. The Postal Service's proposal, however, was ridiculously complex. The e-mail address would be derived from a customer's initials, their ZIP code, and the last two numbers of their street address. For example, George Bush (1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, D.C., 20500-0003) would get the e-mail address: gb20500000300@usps.com. (CNN) That's not quite as easy to remember as contact@postalmag.com for example. Moreover the e-mailbox address had the fatal flaw of being linked to a physical address. In this highly mobile society, how would a multitude of e-mail change of addresses, e-mail forwardings, and new e-mail address verifications be accomplished?

The French, as well as a number of other European postal services, have come up with something much simpler - yourname@laposte.com for example. (France's postal site, www.laposte.fr, has an e-mail login box right in the middle of their home page. See also Deutsche Post's ePost service and Switzerland's y-mail site.) These e-mail addresses are much like MSN's Hotmail, but with the added "sanctity of the mail" security that only a national government can provide. Plus, these e-mail addresses are not tied to a physical address. A person could keep the same e-mail address for life! Some of these e-mail services have other features, such as spam blocking, photo sharing, and e-card services.

A number of European postal services are also offering high speed Internet access along with their national e-mail. Moreover, these postal services are integrating additional features around these services. Sweden is building its electronic postal infrastructure around its ePostbox service, which allows users to send and receive electronic communications, bills, forms, etc. that are protected by an electronic postmark. Finland is positioning itself as a messaging and logistics company and has expanded into electronic messaging and corporate logistics sectors. Norway Post states that traditional mail activity is in recession, while the (electronic) communication market is growing explosively. So Norway Post is exploring new electronic postal applications, including an electronic smart card that can authenticate certain transactions.

These European online postal services have two basic features in common that are necessary for systemwide (total) integration of postal services with their postal customers - a simple to use national e-mail address system and a national universal postmark.


The USPS has developed a number of useful online services, including online bill paying, change of address, hold mail service, redelivery service, and package tracking. It has also developed an electronic postmark. What's missing however, is a national e-mail address to bind these services together and link them to postal customers. Imagine an e-mail service, with a simple address such as yourname@usps.com, with features such as online bill paying, change of address notification, Pay@Delivery, hold mail service, and electronic postmark - all built right into the e-mail browser. The basic e-mail service would be free, however, the USPS could offer "premium" accounts for a small fee to users who wanted additional storage space and certain other features.

While politically problematic, the USPS could also offer broadband Internet services. Perhaps the USPS could partner with an established Internet provider in the same way Yahoo has partnered with SBC to sell high-speed Internet access.

Although providing high-speed Internet service would be a luxury for the USPS, a national e-mail address is a necessity. There's a good chance that the Presidential Postal Commission, currently at work developing a blueprint for the USPS in the 21st century, will recommend that the USPS stick to its core mission of delivering physical mail and leave the Internet to the free market. Such solutions would probably be sufficient to keep the USPS afloat for the next decade. But what about the decade after that, when electronic communications are further integrated into society? Long term solutions require that the USPS follow the communications market. Like European postal services, the USPS needs to follow its customers online. Already the USPS is doing a very good job in these efforts, however, it is missing a key link - a national e-mail address for every citizen. This link should be an integral part of any Presidential Postal Commission recommendations.


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