USPS to sell postage on Web

The Postal Service is testing software that lets customers buy the electronic
equivalent of postage stamps over the Internet.


The service is beta-testing Internet Postage from E-Stamp Corp. of Palo Alto, Calif.,
said Roy Gordon, USPS' program manager for the SmartStamp program.


USPS is reviewing several other packages for possible adoption, he said, some of which
are in the alpha test stage.


The service would like to complete all beta tests within six months, Gordon said, but
it has not set a time limit.


SmartStamp makes mailing easier, he said. Potential program users--offices and small
businesses that use lots of postage--would buy a vendor version of SmartStamp software,
download it to their PCs, connect to the software company's Web site and click on the kind
and number of stamps they want and the method of payment.


The Postal Service will leave the payment method up to the vendors, Gordon said.


E-Stamp has agreed to let customers pay with credit and debit cards or direct bank
transfers. Other vendors could accept other payment methods.


Electronic stamps will cost more than their face value because software companies will
charge a fee for online services, said Milton Howard, E-Stamp's director of product
marketing.


Howard said he could not say how much more it will cost users to buy stamps
electronically.


"An electronic stamp is not exactly a stamp as we know it," Howard said.
"It is a series of bar codes that the Postal Service can read, and [holds]
information like the value of the stamp. It's more like what you see in a postal
meter."


Users will be able to buy up to $500 worth of stamps at a time. They will download and
save the stamps on a PC and then print them as needed.


The software includes a meter that lets customers monitor stamp use.


Users will print the stamps on envelopes or on labels that can be affixed on packages,
Howard said.


USPS won't accept electronic stamps that are printed on paper and pasted on envelopes,
he said.


Stamps for first class and priority mail service will be available. E-Stamp will offer
an upgraded version of its software that will include a scale to weigh envelopes and
packages, Howard said.


Internet Postage, written in C++, will run best on a Pentium PC with at least 16M of
RAM and 10M free on the hard drive, Howard said. Microsoft Internet Explorer is required
to run the program.


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