Online Stamp Program Set to Expand Test

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The USPS' Information Based Indicium Program, which lets customers purchase stamps online, is moving ahead as planned.

The program, which debuted in late March, is being tested in Washington, DC, by 20-25 beta users who are using USPS-approved E-Stamp Corp.'s E-Stamp Internet Postage. E-Stamp expects the test to grow in the next four weeks to 500 small-business and home-office user's in the San Francisco area and Washington.

Cristi Jakubik, senior product marketing manager at E-Stamp, said commercial versions of its technology should be available before the end of the year, pending final approval from the USPS. Pricing has not yet been determined, but Jakubik said the company is charging a fee for the software. It also plans to offer a transaction fee when a customer purchases postage that is less than 10 percent of the purchased postage. Hardware costs are included in the software costs.

E-Stamp recently announced that early investors Microsoft Corp. and AT&T Ventures have reinvested in a second round of funding. Compaq Computer Corp. also has made an investment and plans to ship the Internet Postage system on the desktop and portable PCs it targets to small- and medium-sized businesses.

Other systems in alpha test right now are StampMaster, Westlake Village, CA; NeoPost, Hayward, CA; Pitney Bowes, Stamford, CT; and Ascom Hansler, Shelton, CT.

The electronic stamp market is well on its way to becoming a major industry. For example, International Data Corp., Framingham, MA, recently found that the market could reach $700 million in a few years because the technology is coming along quickly and because the USPS eventually will phase out its mechanical meters.

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