NNA calls for precise measurement of rural mail service

April 2, 2015

By Tonda F. Rush

CEO | NNA

WASHINGTON—Changes in the U.S. Postal Service’s method of tracking the mail in its system led in March to the National Newspaper Association’s call for more precise measurement of rural mail service.

In comments to the Postal Regulatory Commission, NNA said it was moderately supportive of the USPS proposal to develop its mandatory mail service “scores” for the PRC through the use of digital tracking that comes with its increased use of Intelligent Mail Barcodes.

The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act required USPS to work with the PRC to develop service measurements. A variety of systems have been used to build reports on how reliably mail meets its service standards. With commercial mailers widely shifting to electronic documentation and use of IMb, the Postal Service believes it will soon have sufficient data to track mail solely through digital scans of containers, bundles and pieces of mail.

The problem with service measurements for newspapers, NNA said, is that they depend upon scanning of mail pieces as they travel through automated sorting equipment. But newspapers are largely sorted manually, so USPS garners few scans. On the other hand, NNA said, the older systems of measurements have captured little data about newspapers. It reviewed a long history of dialogue with USPS and the commission about the problem of measuring newspaper service, reiterating concerns raised in 2008 and repeatedly since that time.

Why would NNA support a digital scanning system that still does not measure newspapers?

“It is the only hope community publishers have left. The existing system of outside-party measurement provides no useful data for in-county newspaper mail and no data specific to newspapers from the outside county measurements,” NNA told the commission. But it said, “Amidst such doom and gloom, however, NNA has some glimmer of hope for the future. It has recently begun a dialogue with the Postal Service about developing some scanning processes that might produce worthwhile data. The possibilities of including barcodes on facing slips for bundles and on flats trays (tubs) have been discussed. If such systems were to be deployed, at least some data from newspapers that remain within their bundles and containers while being passed through the network could flow back to the mailers and USPS.”

NNA also said it believed service problems for newspapers were closely related to wider issues with rural mail in general.

“The study that is needed, however, is the study that the mail monitoring contracts have not yet produced—a reliable study of rural mail delivery. NNA now urges the PRC to require a pilot test of that mail and to develop criteria for periodic reporting of three categories of rural mail of all market-dominant classes: 1. Mail between two rural communities where at least one mail processing operation is required; 2. Origin-entered mail all from urban areas to rural communities; and 3. Origin-entered mail, from rural communities to an urban area not directly served by the nearest mail processing plant.

NNA reminded the PRC that PAEA requires the Postal Service to maintain reliable service to rural areas, an obligation affected by closures of post offices and mail processing plants.

The commission’s review of the new measurement service should permit it to require periodic reports on the categories of rural mail NNA mentioned, the comments said.

trush@americanpressworks.com

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