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Post office faces a lot of static about electronic mial

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Rain, snow, or sleet are just not the issues anymore. As the US Postal Service threads its way toward electronic mail, the challenges instead have come tiptoeing in through a political and legal mine field.

The nagging issues have centered around keeping competition fair in the elbow- jostling telecommunications marketplace.

And now the General Accounting Office has issued a report (Feb. 9) forecasting that electronic mail service and the automation that attends it will cut postal employment to around one-third of its present size.

But at the urging of the business community, which craves Postal Service efficiency, the post office is beginning to emerge into the electronic age.

"We don't want to extend out monopoly into electronic mail," a Postal Service spokesman says warily in explaining recent strides. "We want to complete alongside telecommunications companies."

The first step, beyond the Mailgram, is across the Atlantic by satellite, and it's a halting one.

The Postal Service announced in mid- January that facsimiles can now be sent electronically from New York or Washington to London. They can be delivered with the rest of the mail or picked up an hour after they are sent. But the signals are sent via Toronto, not directly.

A regulatory snarl blocks t he post office from transmitting overseas directly from this country.

the telecommunications companies involved have a joint agreement not to sell their services to middlemen such as the post office, which resell the services to individual customers. And the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) won't let these companies make an exception for the Postal Service.

An FCC official says there has been an internal proposal to require the international carrier companies to drop their resale restrictions.

The next step toward electronic efficiency comes closer to the American home.

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