RETHINK THE MAIL MONOPOLY

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When it concerns the U.S. Postal Service, the warning "Be careful what you ask for ...." is no joke.

Many mail advertising companies have long been asking the postal service to do more to help build the mail advertising business. Now USPS headquarters has done something-and the result is a firestorm of complaints from the mailer community.

We're not surprised the mailers are upset. Beginning in September, USPS will start a one-year, four-market test of simplified bulk mail advertising rules. It's meant to make advertising mail easier and less costly for local advertisers, like the neighborhood florist or pizza parlor, to blanket specific letter carrier routes with saturation mailings.

This sounds great, but the core of the postal service's "Neighborhood Mail" service is a waiver of the requirement that advertising matter delivered in the mail must be addressed. Providing advertisers address lists and labels for saturation mailings is a key service by countless letter shops around the country. With Neighborhood Mail, users need only show up at their local post office with their circulars and the postal service will do the rest, including helping the advertiser select the best letter carrier routes to use for the mailing. Letter shops don't fit in that picture.

Though postal service officials say critics "misunderstand" the Neighborhood Mail test, there is no mistaking that it looks like unwelcome competition and shakes the "partnership" USPS has long claimed to cherish with its mail service company allies.

For our part, we believe competition is a good thing and advertisers stand to benefit from it. Other media have been forced to find ways to add value and cut costs. Mail advertising is not immune from this.

But if the postal service wants to offer advertisers more one-stop services like Neighborhood Mail, then private companies need to be able to compete more directly with USPS. And that means the present USPS mail monopoly must change.

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