Paying for What You Get

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Every few years, I seem to write about the concept that e-mail should not be a free service. The concept that the government should charge a fee for using the Internet for e-mail should not be so overwhelming.

The government created the Internet, and we use it for both personal and commercial benefit. E-mail is sapping the strength and vitality of the U.S. Postal Service. It is primarily the loss of First-Class letters and communication to e-mail that is causing the rate increases for which direct marketers are paying.

E-mail is both a terrific personal communication tool and a great new direct marketing channel. Both uses would benefit greatly from the forethought of spending a thousandth of a cent on the communication.

Clutter would be cut down. Duplication would begin to be taken seriously. Traditional postage costs could be maintained or increases could be slowed. Rules of the game would be set and have an umpire (the USPS). Privacy issues would dissipate.

Since Sept. 11, our world and nation have changed, and our needs and priorities have changed as well. There is greater need for scrutiny of e-mail, both domestic and foreign. I am not advocating a Big Brother invasion of our privacy. Certainly the same scrutiny that traditional postal mail receives should be given to e-mail. The postal service and its counterparts worldwide monitor traditional mail. Shouldn't e-mail be governed under the same systems?

Many have argued in the past that a surcharge, administered at the Internet service provider level and paid by the ISPs to the government, would be more government interference. Frankly, for direct marketers the constant increase in postal rates is already a form of government involvement -- but not a positive one.

From a security viewpoint, government involvement has arrived, and to some extent, it has been welcomed. It is now a question of whether direct marketers want to shoulder the bulk of the postal and interactive mailing environment, or do we want the country to rally behind a key element of our freedom -- the written word.

Make no mistake, the postal service will continue to lose money as more and more of our needs are satisfied through electronic communication. Direct marketers will continue in disproportionate ways to shoulder the costs for everyone's postal needs.

Sept. 11 changed the way we do business, whether by e-mail, postal or otherwise. Normal will never be what normal was. We are a product of our experiences, and though we will renew our everyday lives, things have been reshaped. Government must play a larger role in maintaining the atmosphere needed for us to conduct our business. That does not have to mean intrusion. It does cost money to pay for these services. A taxable source is e-mail.

The crippling computer viruses that plagued many of us recently call for a formal method of response. MIS departments searching anti-virus, software utility company Web sites cannot fix the e-mail communication system, part of the Internet. Today's response for direct marketers and all businesses calls for a government ready to allow American business to conduct business.

This costs money, and if those of us using e-mail as a profit center want it to grow properly and develop, we will have to pay for it.


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