Most people probably don’t know what a universal service obligation is, much less that the Postal Service is bound by one. But a USO, as it’s commonly called, is essential to ensuring that everyone receives the mail service they need. And the Postal Service’s USO is long overdue for updating and clarification, as you can see in our new white paper, Guiding Principles for a New Universal Service Obligation.
In general, a USO is a collection of requirements that ensure everyone in the country receives a minimum level of mail service at a reasonable price. The Postal Service’s USO includes a requirement to provide mail services to everyone, regardless of where they live, and for at least one mail product, at a uniform price. Other features of the USO are understood to include frequency of delivery, a range of product offerings, access to mail services, and quality of service. For instance, delivering your mail 6 days a week is part of the USO.
But frequency of delivery is the only obligation that is clearly articulated in the Postal Service’s current USO. In fact, the USO is based on a hodgepodge of various legal requirements and regulations that, in most cases, provide only broad guidance. For example, while public access to postal services is another important component of the USO, there’s nothing about how many access points, such as collection boxes or post offices, must exist.
The big question: What exact services do policy makers and the American public (both senders and receivers of the mail) now need the Postal Service to provide? Our paper provides six guidelines the Postal Service and its many stakeholders can use to frame the discussion about the USO and try to answer that basic question. For instance, we say a new USO should be clearly defined while also being flexible enough to adapt to future changes.
Do you agree the USO should be updated to reflect the changing nature of communications? How have your mail needs changed in the last decade? Do we still need 6-day-a-week delivery? How do you think the American public would benefit from a more clearly defined USO that included, for example, a minimum requirement for the number of access points?