International delivery of electronic messages will be possible in the near future under an experimental project announced yesterday by the U.S. Postal Service.
Postmaster General William F. Bolger, on the job less than a month, announced that his agency has signed a $895,000 contract with Communications Satellite Corp. (Comsat) for a test of delivering facsimile messages overseas by satellite.
If a one-month trial is successful, as expected, the Postal Service-Comsat venture would be extended for one year to determine if there is a market for such a service.
As described by Bolger at a news conference, the system will include electronic scanning of original mail documents provided by the sender, after which data will be converted into digital electronic signals for international communications.
At receiving earth stations in overseas locations, a faccsimile copy will be made and delivered to the addressee though the traditional mail systems in those nations. Bolger said the copy will be "an exact duplicate of the original document."
Initially, Washington and New York are being considered as sites for U.S. transmission points. Points in up to seven foreign countries are being considered for receiving stations. Bolger said the Postal Service already has talked with post office authorities in West Germany, France, Switzerland and Egypt about the experiment.
Bolger said an international approach to electronic communications could cut delivery time over longer distances mail has to travel and eliminate "roundabout" routing of mail between countries.
The one-month demonstration is scheduled to take place next February, with materials to be solicited from business and government. A full year's trial would begin about a year from now, he said.
A contract signed with Comsat yesterday has a ceiling of $895,000 and will cover costs of the project through the one-month demonstration.To distribute the messages, Comsat will use satellites of the International Tele-communications Satellite Organization, in which the Washington company is the U.S. partner.
If a full-year test program is approved, the total cost would be $2 million, including the initial contract.
"If we didn't think the project has a great chance of success we wouldnt be going into it," Bolger told reporters.
He also said the international test will provide necessary information on possible implementation of electronic mail communications in the United States in the future.
Since 1969, the Postal Service and independent research teams have been studying the possibility of electronic transmission systems in the United States. Because mail volume is expected to decline in future decades, some communications experts have contended that the Postal Service must become engaged in electronic delivery systems to remain a viable entity.
At the same time, privately owned communications companies are expected to oppose entry into domestic electronic service by a government agency.
"While the Postal Service remains committed to providing the best possible conventional mail service for the American public, we share with some members of Congress, and others, a belief that we must also look to the future and be prepared to broaden the concept of mail delivery, should that prove to be economically feasible and in the best interests of the nation," Bolger said yesterday.