USPS tests online service for stamp of approval

The Postal Service, as early as January, wants to accept documents online, print them,
stuff them in envelopes and deliver them—all for the price of a stamp.


USPS is running a small test of the service, called PostOffice Online, in Hartford,
Conn., and Tampa, Fla.


The test will be expanded to Boston, New York and Philadelphia next month, said Cathy
Rogerson, USPS’ group manager for new businesses. If all goes well, PostOffice Online
will become available worldwide in January, she said.


Under the online system, customers fill out an invoice with specifications for their
document and then send the document along with payment to the Postal Service via the
Internet. The information is protected using Secure Sockets Layer, Rogerson said.


The service transmits the documents to commercial printers that download them and
prepare them for mailing.


The service will tap printing centers in high-population locations to do the work under
contract with the Postal Service, Rogerson said.


The printers will be held to the same standard as the Postal Service in ensuring the
privacy of each customer’s information, she said.


Customers will pay fees ranging from the price of a stamp to a little more than $1,
Rogerson said. Simple, black-and-white documents will be less expensive to process than
color and large documents, she said.


The Postal Service will set its rates based on what the printers charge, Rogerson said.
“If we get a good price from a printer in Tennessee, we will pass that on to our
customers. If the New York printer is higher, we will pass that on as well,” she
said.


The service has submitted a proposed rate schedule to the Postal Rate Commission,
Rogerson said, and is waiting for its response.


Customers must pay with a credit card during the test stage of PostOffice Online.
Later, customers will be able to set up prepaid accounts, said Paul Courtemanche, program
manager for PostOffice Online.


The Postal Service’s San Mateo, Calif., office will process all incoming
PostOffice Online documents and then electronically send them to the printers nearest the
addressees.


This will speed delivery considerably, particularly for those mailing from overseas,
Rogerson said. In many cases, the service will be able to provide next-day or two-day
delivery, she said.


The San Mateo office will use seven servers for PostOffice Online, but USPS has not yet
picked the systems. For now, the service plans to run its PostOffice Online applications
under Microsoft Windows NT. But Courtemanche said the service is considering using Unix.


To house data, the service will use an Oracle Corp. database. For its Internet front
end, it is using both Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.02 and Netscape Navigator 3.0
browsers.


Rogerson said she believes PostOffice Online will mainly serve one niche of the
business mail market. “Middle-volume mailers will choose us,” she said.


Small-volume mailers, those sending one or two pieces, will likely continue using
conventional mail services, she said. Large-volume mailers will probably continue to
maintain direct relationships with their printers, Rogerson said.


The service expects that PostOffice Online will mostly handle mailing jobs in the 50-
to 1,000-item range, she said.


The service eventually plans to integrate PostOffice Online with its Information-Based
Indicia Program. Through IBIP, the service is testing applications to let customers buy
postage online and print postage labels on their printers.    

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