Feb. 12 2007 10:57 AM

Editor's Note: We'd like to welcome Kate Muth to "Mailing Systems Technology" magazine. The new "Kate's Slate" column takes the place of our industry news section, formerly "On the Route." In this column, Muth will give commentary on industry happenings. Keep up-do-date on news items as they happen, at www.MailingsSystemsTechnology.com.


These are the times that try mailers' souls. In paraphrasing the famous line by Founding Father Thomas Paine, I'm not looking to inspire our armed forces as they fight for independence. Instead, I hope to remind mailers that these are remarkable times for the mailing industry. As with any major change indeed, revolutionary change these will be difficult times. Ultimately, the outcome should be rewarding, although it might take awhile to reap the rewards. So I'm urging patience and participation.


The mailing industry is a very rate-centric industry. And I understand why that is. It makes sense that companies zero in on the next rate increase when postage is such a huge cost for so many companies. Companies have a hard time thinking a decade out and debating this nation's long-term postal policy when they aren't even sure their businesses can survive the next postage rate increase. I mean, can you really spend your time discussing the future of the postal monopoly when you aren't sure you'll still be in the mail in three years?


But I want encourage you to do just that. I want everyone in the mailing industry and not just the "inside the beltway" crowd to be an active party in the shaping of this country's postal system and its long-term policy. The brand new law that we now operate under provides us the opportunity.


As most everyone knows by now, the 109th Congress passed a bill to reform the Postal Service just hours before it adjourned for the year. President Bush signed the bill into law on December 20, 2006. Among other things, the bill directs the new Postal Regulatory Commission to establish a modern system for setting rates, one that would tie rate increases for market-dominant products to a rate cap. The Postal Service would be allowed to raise rates annually, if it desired, but the rates could not exceed the cumulative growth in the Consumer Price Index.


The new law leaves much work to the regulator in establishing this new system. The law also directs the Postal Service and the new regulatory body to update the Postal Service's service standards and establish a method for measuring service performance. The regulatory body, and the Postal Service will have to write implementing rules to make these systems a reality. This should be an open and public process. I know the major trade associations will be participating. I encourage you to participate as well, if not directly, than as an active member of your association. I have no doubt that you will still hear people debating the law's deficiencies and its merits. Yes, the law has its shortcomings. It also has its strengths. The fact is, however, it's now a reality. We have to make it work so that we ensure a viable postal system for the present and the future. It probably won't be the same
system in 10 years that it is now.


Who says the system has to be based on volume growth every year? Do we still need six-day-a-week delivery? Should universal service be defined differently in an era of shrinking volume? Does the Postal Service need monopoly protections when the delivery of advertising is its primary role?


These are questions that you might answer one way today, but a different way tomorrow. I hope they are the types of questions we ask as we consider how to keep this postal system healthy and viable. The new law does not change the fact that the Postal Service is a public institution held in the public trust. I take this to mean that this is our postal system. Let's take this responsibility seriously. So let's look beyond the current rate case and think about what kind of postal system we want to leave for a future generation of businesses and consumers.


It's no small task. And it will test our mettle. I think another line from the same Thomas Paine article seems appropriate here as well: "What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly."


Kate Muth is Vice President of the Association for Postal Commerce, a trade association in Arlington, Virginia, that represents the interests of mail-related businesses before Congress, the Postal Service and the Postal Rate Commission. You can reach her via email at kmuth@postcom.org or by phone at 703-524-0096. For more information on the association, visit www.postcom.org.