*New Rates May Stall Mailers

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While some mailers are ready for the new postal rates that go into effect Jan. 7, others may stop mailing until their software is ready. Earlier this month, the Board of Governors of the U.S. Postal Service allowed under protest the overall 4.6 percent postage rate increase recommended by the Postal Rate Commission.


Many associations and companies lobbied the board to implement the new rates in March to give vendors and mailers time to adjust and test software changes.


"Some mailers will make it, and some will not," said Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president of government affairs at the Direct Marketing Association. "There are some nonprofit mailers that are not going to be ready. I think there will be significant problems in this community."


Victor Forman, vice president of postal affairs at Group 1 Software, Lanham, MD, a postal software vendor that introduced software recently supporting the new rate requirements, also expressed concern.


"For many years, we have had discussions with our customers regarding the need for at least 60 to 90 days for customers to be able to successfully integrate, implement and test software in their very own complex environment," he said.


"In this rate-case-centered environment we live in, it's just not a possibility, and it never will be unless there is some legislative mandate that requires a prescribed time frame between a finalized decision and an implementation date. ... Installing the software for most of these people is not like installing Microsoft Word on your PC. It is deeply integrated into a lot of other functions in their systems."


Postal officials said they are working with companies to make sure there are no disruptions, and instructions have been sent to postal service operating units. For mailers who anticipate that they will not be ready, the USPS is urging them to contact their USPS rates and classifications service centers.


Chris Lien, senior product manager at FirstLogic, another postal software vendor, said he has been working with his customers closely and is sure "they will be fully acclimated to the changes and nuances that are part of this rate case."


In general, mailers are concerned with the increasing rates and are seeking alternatives. TECO Energy, Tampa, FL, which mails 700,000 bills a month, is touting its new PowerPay program, which allows customers to have their power bills paid automatically from their checking accounts. The electric and gas utility recently hired an Atlanta firm to set up an Internet payment system using credit cards.


Bruce Richards, production manager at Sterling Research, St. Petersburg, FL, which mails at least 50,000 Standard-A letters a week tracking customer satisfaction for many of the nation's big hotel chains, said he would take advantage of any work-sharing discounts he is eligible for and may end up mailing more to receive bigger discounts.


The average increases for each class of mail are 1.8 percent for First Class; 9.9 percent for periodicals; 4.5 percent for regular standard enhanced carrier route; 8.8 percent for all other regular Standard-A mail; 2.7 percent for Parcel Post; 17.6 percent for bound printed matter; 16 percent for Priority Mail; 7.2 percent for nonprofit periodicals; and 4.8 percent for nonprofit standard.
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