President Obama’s State of the Union address in January included the announcement of the National Wireless Initiative, which would expand wireless broadband coverage to 98 percent of the population within 5 years. With that large percentage of the population on the verge of being wired, could such a network be leveraged by the U.S. Postal Service to modernize its obligation to deliver mail to every household in America?
The initiative provides financial incentives for private industry to expand wireless broadband infrastructure. The incentives are necessary because building a nationwide, interconnected communications network is cost prohibitive in some areas of the country. Once constructed, though, this network will be used by government agencies for a number of purposes including coordinating emergency response and communicating important information directly with citizens.
The Postal Service must provide universal service to every address in the United States under the Universal Service Obligation (USO). The USO requires that Americans have ready access to postal products and services through postal carriers, collection boxes and post offices. It also requires the Postal Service to deliver the mail to every street address, six days a week.
Perhaps the Postal Service could connect every physical address with a secure e-mail address. Other countries offer similar services, such as Finland’s NetPosti, which is a digital alternative to the physical mailbox. Every citizen gets an account and an e-mail address tied to his or her social security number. Postal customers could opt to use hybrid mail and have their letters and flats scanned and delivered to the customer’s secure postal e-mail box instead of to a physical mailbox. The Postal Service could also print and deliver the letters from a sender’s e-mail box to a recipient’s physical address if so desired by the sender.
A number of private sector companies have made limited attempts at providing such a service in the United States, such as Zoombox, but none of them have the resources or infrastructure at the Postal Service’s disposal to offer reliable hybrid mail service to a national audience.
Let us know what you think. Should the Postal Service explore the realities of implementing this service in the near future and use the internet to help meet its universal service obligation?
This blog is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).