Postal Service digitizes stamp sales via the Internet

Postal Service digitizes stamp sales via the Internet

You can print the bar code information on the envelope and pay using secure public-key encryption

By Shruti Dat'

GCN Staff

The Postal Service added digital postage to its stamp collection last month, using public-key infrastructure for security.

'It is our vision to bring the post office to the people,' USPS representatives said in a statement. 'Providing electronic access to postage reflects the Postal Service's response to technology trends and desire to reach our customers where they are and how they work'in their homes and offices using personal computers and the Internet.'

The program lets customers buy and print postage onto envelopes and labels via the Internet and using PCs connected to laser or ink-jet printers. The PCs run software from commercial vendors.

USPS has authorized products developed by two California companies'E-Stamps Corp. of San Mateo and of Santa Monica. USPS is testing products developed by Neopost of Hayward, Calif., and Pitney Bowes of Stamford, Conn.

The project is the culmination of three years of work with the vendors to define standards for digital postage.

Customers print information-based indicia (IBI) markings, representing the postage, on envelopes. PC Postage is the USPS trademark used to identify products developed by vendors, which are authorized by USPS to sell IBI.

USPS evaluates the software and security devices necessary to use the vendor-developed IBI to ensure postage revenue protection.

Printed on the top right corner, IBI contain information about the originating ZIP code, delivery point, software used, postage amount and class, and date of mailing.

USPS also ensures security, financial and system integrity, and operation interface before approving the software for commercial distribution by installing PKI technology from Cylink Corp. of Sunnyvale, Calif.

PKI uses digital certificates and registration authorities to validate each party involved in an Internet transaction. The PKI technology has been installed at USPS' San Mateo operations center.

According to the Postal Service, the 2-D bar code provides 'a technology platform that could offer future value-added customer information services.'

A customer must establish a connection with one of the PC Postage vendors' Internet sites. Payments are made through electronic funds transfer or by credit card on the site to the USPS automated clearinghouse.

Regular customers

Customers can download the postage and store it on their PCs, or the postage amount can be stored on the vendor's Internet site. The postage amount is subtracted with each purchase.

USPS receives full payment for the postage; vendors establish their own license and services fees.

Customers can use PC Postage for domestic first-class mail, Priority Mail, Express Mail and parcel post. It does not receive any special handling and requires no change in postal operations.

Special services and international mail will be added, but when has not been determined, according to USPS.

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