Jul 3, 2014

US Postal Service: Not Just Constitutionally Required But Also Capable Of Enabling Radical Social Changes

Since the implementation of the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act (which was a direct response to a labor strike of the previous year) the United States Post Office has been essentially spun-off as independent quasi-public corporation having zero operational funds coming from the federal taxpayer (at least after the transitional period ending with the 1984 fiscal year) and entirely dependent on the fees from services provided. Despite being cleaved from any additional revenues from the government while obligated to continue providing service to rural parts of the country that are not self sufficient, the postal rate for 1st class mail has remained so remarkably low that it has been a deterrent to for-profit enterprises to enter the market to compete; UPS and FedEx do offer letter delivery starting at $8.61 and $7.32 respectively compared to USPS' 49 cent stamp and an additional 2 days for the USPS to deliver. Currently the USPS's operational losses can be exclusively attributed to Postal Accountability & Enhancement Act of 2006 passed by the the lame duck Republican Congress that imposed a 75 year pension liability; meaning that before future USPS employees are even born, their first decade of pension has already been paid for, a financial herculean task that no enterprise (governmental or for-profit) should ever be expected to accomplish. And yet the USPS with shrinking their own headcount through attrition and possibly stopping personal mail service on Saturdays (while initiating Sunday package delivery for Amazon in a few metropolitan areas) has been successful to be on a trajectory to fully fund the 75 year pension liability in the coming decade. Imagine if the USPS was allowed to return to a normal 30-40 year pension liability they would be left with billions of dollars in excess and no longer have impending budgetary sword of damocles hanging over their head.

Let me bring your attention to following verbiage from the Postal Reorganization Act:
Sec 101
(a) The United States Postal Service shall be operated as a basic and fundamental service provided to the people by the Government of the United States, authorized by the Constitution, created by Act of Congress and supported by the People. The Postal Service shall have its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people.
(d) Postal rates shall be established to apportion the costs of all postal operations to all users of the mail on a fair and equitable basis

The combination of both of these parts to the Section 101 of the explanatory intentions of the Act, that the USPS operational budget shall come from postage fees alone and that it is obligated to "provide personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people", we could solve the issue of Net Neutrality and spark a new economic revolution akin to the Industrial Revolution. I would propose to take the billions of that which has been sequestered to fund the ridiculous 75 year pension to be freed up and allowed to build the infrastructure needed for the USPS to begin offering internet service wirelessly as a Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP). Having the USPS operating as a WISP would be aligned with the intentions of the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act, as the correspondence is the intended purpose of the USPS and though contemporaneously was exclusive to the physical paper-centric correspondence, the USPS is not shackled to that limited definition of communication which is the bedrock of an informed electorate within a democracy. What I am envisioning is a municipal wifi except on a national level, that unlike the municipal wifi projects would be paid for by the end users instead of through ad revenue and local government taxes.

While providing competition to traditional internet service providers (ISP) that are currently biting at the bit to impose slow lanes to their customers, having the USPS entering the market would create a floor as far as maintaining net neutrality and allowing their users to freely browse the web without being slowed down when interacting with private ISPs non-preferential content (think of Comcast slowing their customers' traffic whenever they browsed other than subsidiary NBC/Universal content on the web). With the pseudo government agency, the USPS, operating the WISP the private providers would still retain the market differentiator of having their users' privacy as a priority possibly baking into their service end-to-end encryption and faster speeds of hard lines and fiber to the curb than the USPS' WISP. The freeform nature of the Internet would be retained with a critical mass of consumers guaranteed access to all of the internet, and have the positive effect of either forcing the hand of the for-profit ISPS to continue net-neutrality policy or possibly that the slow-lanes be so cheap that people would possibly patronize both services.