Email Pioneer Says the United States Postal Service Must Survive

One of the people responsible for the proliferation of electronic mail, a man truly hailed as one of the “Fathers of the Internet,” told attendees at Postal Vision 2020 today that he considers the United State’s Postal Service’s brand of physical delivery as fundamental to a democratic society.

“It’s  a national infrastructure like schools, public roads, water supply, electricity, and telecommunications,” said Google VP and Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf, who helped introduce commercial email as a tech strategist at MCI in 1983. “I think it’s utterly incumbent on all of us to figure out how to retain this very important infrastructure.”

Cerf’s remarks were delivered during the opening session of Postal Vision 2020, a Washington, DC, convocation of postal regulators, policy makers, businesspeople, and academics exploring ways to keep the beleaguered USPS in business for the next decade and beyond. The first panel discussion, which included Cerf and was moderated by Weber Shandwick founder Larry Weber, elicited questions from the floor from current USPS Inspector General David C. Williams and Yale Law School Professor Judith Resnik.

But it was Cerf who drew murmurs of approval from those assembled when he said that the Postal Service’s current predicament was the fault of a Congress that had “set them up as a quasi-private sector business and then tied their arms behind their backs.”

Cerf characterized the Postal Service as a unique combination of inimitable physical network, trusted and reliable brand, and technological stalwart. “This is not the staid and uncreative operation that it’s been made out to be by a bunch of ghouls,” Cerf said. “Now it has to get more creative to sustain its existence.”

Cerf lauded the Postal Service’s efforts to partner with overnight deliverers to take parcels the “last mile” to their destinations, and expressed optimism for the viability of same-day delivery services for local retailers that it’s currently testing. Other business expansion items pondered by the panel, which also included comScore cofounder Linda Abraham and Sascha Meinrath of the New America Foundation, included electronic payment services, signature verification, and security services.

All were unified behind the idea that the Postal Service has a future. “The USPS is an unprecedented reputational asset. In a time of great cynicism, we shove a letter in a box and trust it will be delivered safely,” Meinrath observed. “Why dismantle functions like this?”

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