Canadas Postal Service is leading the world in promoting electronic mail, with roughly 100 businesses using the national Epost to send their customers bills and other communications.
With anthrax spores appearing in a White House mail-sorting station and at post offices, the model may gather support in the U.S. Anthrax spores, after all, may be airborne, but they cant be transmitted through the ether of the Internet.
"I dont think anyone envisioned whats happening today with the terrorist mailings," said Bill Robertson, former general manager of electronic commerce at Canada Post and lead developer of the Epost delivery system. Rather, Epost was designed by the national system to forestall the loss of postage revenue by offering its own electronic alternative.
Canadian companies that have opted to send bills and flyers over the wire instead of via snail mail now find "electronic delivery takes them out of being susceptible to terrorism," he added.
Robertson just gave an address on the advantages of e-mail delivery at the Post-Expo 2001 conference in Geneva. Recent bioterrorism attacks will prompt businesses and government "to explore rapid deployment of alternatives much more urgently," he predicted.
In Canada, Epost, the worlds first electronic post office, is used primarily "by businesses for billing consumers, and lets customers pay their bills online" in a secure environment, an Epost spokeswoman said.
Users establish an Epost mailbox for themselves, but unlike Yahoo! or Microsoft mail, only senders designated by the user and under contract with Epost may send mail to the mailbox. There is no spam in this system.
Such companies as Canadian Tire, Hudsons Bay Co., Petro-Canada and Sears, Roebuck and Co. are among about 100 businesses that use Epost instead of sending their customers paper bills. More than 250,000 consumers have signed up to receive and pay bills online, the Epost spokeswoman said.
"They charge the sender of the information for the service. Consumers receive it free," Robertson said.
Robertson left Epost in July 2000 to found an e-mail system company, Netdelivery, in Boulder, Colo. The firm is working with another nation - Sweden.
Netdelivery supplied software to the Swedish postal service, which is just completing the installation of its own electronic post office. "The Swedish service is recognized as one of the leading postal services in Europe," he said.
Unlike paper mail, which is subject to tampering and failed delivery, electronic mail is confidential, reliable and secure, he said. A postal service, as a neutral, public-service-oriented third party, is a natural agent for delivering important mail electronically, he said.
And there are other benefits - chiefly saving money. "Companies get a cost reduction. An Epost study concluded the savings per regular envelope mailing to be 46 [cents] to 85 cents," Robertson said.
The savings stem not only from a lower postage rate for electronic delivery, but also from electronic replication of content instead of printing bills and flyers, and stuffing envelopes, he noted. An auxiliary benefit is faster delivery and improved cash flow, as payments come back.
"There was a strong argument without bioterrorism," he said, but with the anthrax incidents, the reasons to consider electronic delivery are more compelling.
Does the U.S. Postal Service have any plans to implement electronic delivery services? A spokesman promised to check into the question but had not responded by press time.