*USPS Defends E-Commerce Activities

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The U.S. Postal Service sent letters to all 535 members of Congress last week, defending the agency's foray into electronic commerce.

The letters, sent Nov. 14 and written by Deborah K. Willhite, vice president for government affairs at the USPS, responded to a report issued earlier this year by the Computer & Communications Industry Association. The report criticized the electronic commerce activities of the USPS and other government agencies for allegedly competing unfairly with its members.

Willhite's letter said, "Some 'think tank' groups and a few private service providers have repeatedly depicted the postal service falsely as an out-of-control, unregulated government monopoly that ought to be prohibited from offering e-commerce-based services that might compete with private companies.... The fact is the postal service is a self-financing government service that has not received federal tax subsidies to pay for its operations in nearly 20 years."

Willhite also said the postal service provides all Americans with access to universal service at a uniform rate. But, to hold down operational expenses and to keep the price of postage at a minimum, "we use every efficiency we can find, including Internet technology, to cut costs internally and to provide choices for our customers. ... In today's economy, offering a mix and match of traditional services with some electronic commerce applications and solutions is simply sound business sense for all service organizations, including the postal service."

Finally, she said, those "who seek to prevent postal service participation in the changing technology destine this organization to failure, restrict opportunities for private-sector companies to benefit from America's asset of trust in its postal system and significantly limit potential Internet customer choice."

Willhite also sent an enclosure with the letter that categorically denied the CCIA's claims that the USPS' eBillPay service "overstepped the boundaries that should apply to public provision of goods and services ... and is competing with the private sector."

Willhite said that if the rules were as CCIA claims, "the postal service would have never offered parcel delivery, money orders and post office boxes."

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