Mailing Online May Get Board's OK

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A market test of Mailing Online, the new service created by the U.S. Postal Service that allows mailers to create and introduce computer-created messages into the postal system, is expected to be approved and could begin immediately.

As of press time, the USPS' board of governors was set to vote on the system. If approved, the three-month market test could be launched in New York City, Philadelphia and Boston, as well as test sites Tampa, FL, and Hartford, CT. The service was recently approved by the Postal Rate Commission.

Here's how the service works: Mailers that send out fewer than 5,000-piece direct mail advertising mailings, invoices and solicitation mailings first compose a document on a personal computer. The Mailing Online service then is purchased through a designated postal service Web site. Mailers select among various printing, finishing, mailing date and payment options and submit a mailing list of recipients. The USPS then batches submitted jobs where possible and transmits them electronically to digital printing contractors, who print the documents, put them in envelopes and finally enter them at the local postal facility for delivery.

Customers of Mailing Online will be charged postage as well as a fee for production and other pre-mailing services.

"We will take the [printing] fees that the printer is going to charge in the location where the mail will be printed and mark it up 25 percent," said Lee Garvey, program manager of Mailing Online. "Then we will charge the customer that actual cost plus the small mark-up."

The USPS has contracted Vetscom Massachusetts, Woburn, MA, a mailing services company to assist in the market test. As for postage fees, the PRC rejected the USPS' original request that Destination Entry rates for Standard-A mail be available during the market test and instead recommended that the postal service charge the automation basic rate for Standard-A and First-Class mail, even though mailings won't be required to meet the volume restrictions for those rates.

Garvey said the pricing is based on the test and that "we have to figure out what permanent national filing we would make, which might not be the same as the existing rates."

Pitney Bowes, Stamford, CT, which sells DirectNet, a competitive service, expressed concern about the rates. According to the PRC's recommended decision paper, Pitney Bowes argued that it's unfair that the company and its customers won't be allowed exemption from these discount eligibility requirements. And, according to a recent article in the Mail Advertising Service Association's Postal Points newsletter, allowing the USPS to offer this service at the low automation rates would give it an unfair marketing advantage not available to other competitors offering similar services.

If Mailing Online is approved, the USPS is scheduled to complete the market tests by January and implement a two-year experimental classification on or about Jan. 10, when new rates and fees are implemented.

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