Implications of Electronic Mail and Message Systems for the U.S. Postal Service

Chapter 1

Summary

Introduction

This study addresses three major questions:
1. To what extent are privately offered elec
tronic mail and message systems (EMS)
and electronic funds transfer (EFT) sys
tems likely to affect the volume of mail
handled by the U.S. Postal Service
(USPS)?
2. Are changes in USPS mail volume likely
to lead to significant adjustments in
USPS rates, service levels, and/or labor
force requirements? and
3. What are the implications of EMS for the
future of USPS and how it might partici
pate in the provision of EMS services?
These questions are of concern because his
torically USPS has served a variety of social
purposes mandated by Congress, such as "to
bind the Nation together through the personal,
educational, literary, and business corres
pondence of the people" and to provide mail
service "to (postal) patrons in all areas . . . and
all communities, " including rural areas, com
munities, and small towns (Postal Reorganiza
tion Act of 1970). In recent years, there has
been a continuing revolution in computer and
communication technology, a gradual dereg
ulation of the telecommunication industry (the
computer industry being essentially unregu
lated), and a proliferation of new and old firms
offering or planning to offer EMS and EFT
services that compete with portions of the tra
ditional USPS market. Technology is, in ef-
fect, blurring the historical (and legal and
regulatory) distinctions between conventional
and electronic mail.
USPS is already involved in EMS to a lim
ited extent. It currently delivers some in
dustry EMS hardcopy output, provides a por
tion of Western Union's Mailgram service, and
in January 1982 introduced a domestic service
called "electronic computer originated mail"
or E-COM. However, the role of USPS in EMS

in general, and in E COM in particular, con
tinues to be in dispute before various regula
tory agencies, the courts, and Congress. USPS
believes its participation in EMS is authorized
by the Postal Reorganization Act mandate to
use new facilities and equipment to improve
the convenience, efficiency, and cost effective
ness of mail service. Various mailer organiza
tions, consumer groups, and postal labor
unions see a USPS role in EMS as essential
to USPS long term viability and to maintain
ing, or at least minimizing any reductions in,
mail services that are vital to a large part of
the U.S. population. They point to the critical
role of USPS in providing a universal, low
cost, nondiscriminatory nationwide commu
nication service. Various private telecommu
nication and computer firms view USPS in
volvement in EMS as the entry of a Federal
agency into competition with private industry
(possibly subject to the Communications Act
as well as the Postal Act), raising difficult
questions of ratesetting and potential cross
subsidy.
There are no easy answers to the questions
addressed in this study. Prior studies have
proven to be oversimplified. In order to bet-
ter understand the complexities involved,
OTA used computer based models to project
independently the levels of conventional and
electronic mail volumes under different sets
of assumptions, and to project the possible ef-
fects of changes in USPS mail volumes on
USPS rates, service levels, and labor re
quirements. Still, while computer modeling
permits consideration of a larger number of
variables and interrelationships than would
otherwise be possible, the precision of the pro
jections can be misleading. The models are
highly sensitive to initial assumptions and
have limited ability to anticipate unexpected
events. The study as a whole, and the use of
computer modeling in particular, is intended

United States. Congress. Office of Technology Assessment. Implications of Electronic Mail and Message Systems for the U.S. Postal Service. UNT Digital Library. http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc39480/. Accessed July 22, 2014.