Is It date for a Postal Service 2.0?

Calls for an overhaul of the U.S. Postal Service are getting louder. They’ll only increase in volume in the runup to a 2 percent increase in the price of a first-class stamp, scheduled for May 11.

The additional postage is needed to cover the rising costs of a sprawling operation that employs 685,000 citizens, operates 37,000 retail locations, and in fiscal 2008 delivered 202 billion pieces of mail in every state, city, town, and village in the U.S. and its territories. The U.S. Postal Service [USPS], which relies on postage-stamp sales and not Uncle Sam for revenue, is operating at a large loss. Last year’s $2.6 billion shortfall, on $75 billion in revenue, is expected to widen to $8 billion that year.

In an effort to rein in costs, Postmaster General John E. Potter last month floated before a Senate subcommittee the view of cutting back on mail delivery to five days a week from six.

But what USPS may need most is a technological revamp. So say two startups that specialize in digital document delivery. Earth Class Mail provides mail-scanning services for consumers and small businesses. The company’s CEO, Ron Wiener, says it’s cheaper to deliver a document by a computer network than by hand, particularly when the recipient lives in a remote area, and so much of what is delivered via mail begins its life as an electronic file.

Delivering Mail, Digitally

Wiener’s plan is to get national postal services in the business of delivering documents digitally and securely using an approach he calls “trusted postal mail.” The concept is to replace the printer with a secure e-mail server operated by the postal service that can thereupon deliver a digital equivalent of your paper phone bill or investment statement to a personal, secure online mailbox. “Everything that gets printed and sent to you…

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