USPS Begins Test Of Mailing Online

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The three-month market test of Mailing Online, a service created by the U.S. Postal Service that allows mailers to introduce computer-created messages into the postal system, began last week in New York, Philadelphia and Boston, as well as test sites Tampa, FL, and Hartford, CT.

However, the Postal Rate Commission said it won't file a recommendation with the board of governors for a national, experimental rollout of the service until February, a month later than what the USPS expected. The PRC indicated it needed more time to track the system's success and to examine price issues once the test is completed.

The PRC also asked the USPS to reveal its marketing plans and costs for Mailing Online. The USPS contends that Mailing Online is another way to access the USPS's existing products -- such as First-Class, Standard-A and Priority Mail -- and that "the advertising we do for these products today is not attributed directly to these classes of mail," said Lee Garvey, program manager of Mailing Online. "So, the thinking is why should we do it that way for Mailing Online?"

Steven Scharfman, legal counsel for the PRC, said the postal service has taken the preliminary position that Mailing Online -- as a service -- shouldn't have to pay for the marketing of the service. Its competitors, however, have taken a different view up with the PRC.

"While we did not attribute any marketing costs in the test, we are not saying what we are going to do when we are done with the experiment," Scharfman said.

Mailing Online is designed for mailers that send out fewer than 5,000-piece direct mailings. They can compose a document on a personal computer, purchase Mailing Online through a designated postal service Web site, 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 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 premailing services.

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