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

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

the problem can be attributed to cutbacks in
air carrier service, but it is also possible that
the rising total volume of mail has begun to
tax the capacity of the overall mail distribu
tion system. For example, postal officials have
testified that the elimination of Saturday
delivery alone would create a mail backlog suf
ficient to overload the system for Monday
delivery. On the other hand, postal officials
point to the system's ability to handle peak
volumes during holiday periods as evidence
that overall capacity has not been reached.
Third, a variety of technical regulatory, and
market developments are contributing to a
rapid increase in commercially offered elec-
tronic mail and message systems (EMS) that
increasingly will compete with USPS As early
as 1977, studies projected that EMS could
divert substantial portions of mail from USPS,
to the extent that total mail volume might ac
tually start to decline by the early 1980's.'
None of these projections has yet been real
ized. However, the large number of commer
cial firms now in the electronic message
market,* coupled with recent developments in
personal computers, viewdata/teletext, and
other home information systems, suggests
that this prospect is much more realistic than
it was just a few years ago. Furthermore, regu
latory decisions by the Federal Communica
tions Commission over the last few years,
coupled with congressional actions to rewrite
the Communications Act of 1934, are clearing
the way for increased competition in the elec
tronic message market. Thus, while EMS will
undoubtedly stimulate new message "traffic"
between individuals and organizations, they
also have the potential for diverting existing
'See, for example, F. B. Wood, R. W. Anthony, et al., USPS
and the Communications Revolution: Impacts, Options, and
Issues, Final Report to the Commission on Postal Service,
prepared by the Program of Policy Studies in Science and Tech
nology, The George Washington University, Washington, D. C.,
Mar. 5, 1977. Also see Arthur D. Little, The Impact ofElec
tronic Communication Systems on First Class Mail Volume in
19801990, Cambridge, Mass., April 1978.
*Examples include Quik-Comm (General Electric), Telemail
GTE Telenet), On-Tyme (Tymnet), InfoPlex (Plexus), Faxgram
raphnet, Mailgram (Western Union), and Datapost (southern
acitic). lectronic mail is also one of several services offered
by Satellite Business Systems and other specialized or value
added common carriers.

traffic from other media, including a portion
of the message traffic currently handled by the
U.S. Mail. This diversion would come at a time
when mail volume may also be reduced by the
consolidation of many bills and payments, or
the elimination of some billing and payment
transactions altogether, as a consequence of
the implementation of electronic funds trans
fer (EFT) systems.
Substantial erosion of U.S. Mail volumes,
particularly first class mail, could tend to raise
the unit cost of carrying the remaining mail
volume and/or force a reduction in the quali
ty and convenience of mail service, thus pro
viding further incentive for mail users to
switch to alternatives such as private delivery
services, newspaper inserts, and the like. Such
a development could disadvantage users with
out a viable alternative to the U.S. Mail,
jeopardize the ability of USPS to provide
universal service, and adversely affect USPS
employees.
An important issue for USPS is whether and
how it will participate in the provision of elec
tronic mail and message services. USPS cur
rently provides a portion of Western Union's
Mailgram service, and in January 1982 in
troduced a domestic service called "electronic
computer originated mail" (E-COM). An inter
national EMS service, known as "interna
tional electronic post," has also been initiated.
INTELPOST is outside the scope of this
study. USPS has been developing a more ad
vanced "electronic message service system"
or EMSS which, for the purposes of this study,
is considered to be an extension of E COM to
full nationwide deployment at all or most serv
ing post offices. There are a variety of ways
in which USPS could play one or more roles
in the provision of EMS services, ranging from
the delivery of hardcopy output to the provi
sion of a complete end to end electronic mail
service.
The Annual Report of the Postmaster Gen
eral for fiscal year 1979 states flatly: "In the
future, the only way the Postal Service will be
able to keep its volume rising and finances
dependable is through participating in elec

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 May 6, 2015.