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PHILADELPHIA-Lower rates are possible within five years, Postmaster General Marvin Runyon says.

"Before the end of this century, I want to announce that we are rolling back prices," he told a gathering of about 7,000 people at the National Postal Forum.

Lower rates would be possible with deregulation from Congress, he said. Mr. Runyon is trying to streamline the way postage rates are set, to lift some of the restrictions on introducing new products and to give managers more autonomy with employees.

"New technologies and old rivals are making inroads against our core communications products. The competition is outflanking us. But we're fighting back."

Mail volume so far is up 2.4% for fiscal 1995, ending Sept. 30, from last year and the Postal Service expects to deliver a record 180 billion pieces of mail this year. But market share is being lost to competitors in five of six product lines-correspondence and transactions, publications, packages, expedited mail and international mail, Mr. Runyon said.

Advertising mail is the one product line where the Postal Service isn't losing share.

Competition is increasing. Electronic messages grew 122% in 1994 alone. United Parcel Service of America's overnight and two-day products showed double-digit growth last year. Also, four foreign postal services have "invaded our country," Mr. Runyon said, and are siphoning off international advertising mail.

Initiatives to meet such competition include CustomerPerfect, the new approach to managing the Postal Service and building customer satisfaction; the Classification Reform proposal introduced in March, a "bold first step toward rational pricing"; and new technology, including services such as "The Check's in the Mail," information kiosks, electronic post offices and e-mail authentication systems, Mr. Runyon said.

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