For the past year we have been seeing signs of the emergence of the US Postal Service into the realm of the Internet. The announcement of the Kiosk program last October 30 left the impression that the USPS intent was to provide general information windows onto the Internet. Gradually, however, it became clearer that the goal was to give citizens a tool to access only governmental information, and that the USPS had done much of its early planning without communication with the professional library community. Our research has led us to the conclusion that USPS is trying to position itself as a critical fulcrum for the dissemination of most Federal, state and even local government information on the Internet.

The USPS met with librarians in mid January to discuss the kiosk program which was seen as a means of connecting the kiosks to the Internet to answer general purpose reference questions. Among the conclusions of the librarians: "the USPS kiosk is a PC in a strengthened box that provides government information repackaged in subject categories the USPS kiosk project determines appropriate. The USPS is uninformed by the input of public service librarians."

On March 16 we had a long interview with Susan Smoter the Manager of the USPS Kiosk Program. Among the things she told us: "The Postal Service was asked in March of 1994 to lead an inter-governmental task force and do a study on whether kiosks were a viable technology for disseminating electronic government service applications. In other words for the distribution of information as well as transactions such as ordering stamps or birth certificates. We want to integrate federal, state, and local programs in many areas to reduce the complexity of transacting one's business with the government. We pulled together 50 volunteers from 18 different agencies. "

Later in the interview Smoter said: The Postal Service is involved because it feels that this kind of integration needs to be directed and orchestrated because it won't happen on its own. Now a lot of agencies know that they need to automate their service delivery. But what we are going to get, if we just let it go its natural route, is electronic, but segregated, service delivery that is still just as confusing or perhaps even worse that what we have now.

COOK Report: So the Post Office is positioning itself as systems integrator for government agency information and would assist these other agencies for a fee?

Smoter: That is one possible scenario. At this point we believe that the integration won't happen on its own. Therefore we are willing to serve as a facilitator for this to happen."

While the USPS denies that it is seeking to be the main agency for distribution of a single "smart card" for interaction with all government services, it is heavily involved with what it call electronic postmarking services, electronic certification and bonded documents. It seeks to be able to certify the electronic identity of customers for transaction with agencies such as IRS. For three years it has been running a test certication program with the Federal Aviation Administation.

The USPS program apparently needs no statutory authorization. Funding for it apparently is small and vigorous efforts are underway to find ways to be self supporting - in other words what will kiosk user be willing to pay and will advertising on kiosk screen be successful?

After our interview with Susan Smoter, Manager of the Kiosk Program, we conclude that there is a well defined very ambitious program that from the USPS point of view at least makes reasonable sense. One major unknown however is that by potentially linking Federal, State and local data bases it has enormous privacy ramifications. We predict that how these shake out will have a major impact on the success of failure of the USPS role in shaping national information infrastructure.


Some major infrastructure building is going on among the National Service Providers. Network Interexchange points (known as NAPs) are now just as important as national backbone now that multiple players are in the picture. We survey the highlights of a rapidly changing landscape.

MAE-West is ramping up as the major west coast interchange as an FDDI ring with its central point at NASA Ames. MCI and Sprint are focusing most efforts there leaving PAC Bell's ATM NAP a bit out in the cold. The California and Chicago NAPs having bet on ATM have had to construct FDDI rings as back stops for the uncertain ATM technology. However we are told that as of the last few days ATM has become functional at both NAPs. We discuss connection, transport and peering issues at MAE-East + which NSF is also using as the non priority Washington DC NAP.

We compare the recent evolution of Sprint, MCI, and BBN. While we admire the role that Sprint has played up to this point, we are concerned that Kansas City still doesn't understand the significance of the Internet and is allowing MCI to overwhelm Sprint's earlier investment. MCI leads Sprint 9 to 5 in the number of regionals signed up for backbone service according to the March network transition report. The MCI nets moreover are by far the largest of the regionals.

At Interop MCI announced nationally available 800 number accessible shell accounts for $19.95 a month (unlimited usage) for the months of April, May, and June. MCI will certainly make a major impact among first time network users, and for the next 90 days there should be nothing better going nationwide. The big question becomes what kind of service MCI will be able to give if a million people sign up wihin the next 30 days. Also how many attracted at the 19.95 a month for unlimited usage will find out how to migrate to local ISPs when the price goes up July 1?

NYNEX, Sprint & NYSERNet, pp. 11-13

Having first heard about the reorganization of NYSERNet from Richard Mandelbaum last summer, we decided to find out how it had all turned out. We interviewed Bill Russell a New York University member of NYSERNet's extended technical committee. What we found out is that the transition seems to be working well for the R&E community and that the commercial community of small ISPs, while totally dissatisfied with NYNEX service really have no complaints against NYSERNet.

Network Charging Models, pp. 15-19

On March 9-10 at MIT an important conference was held to discuss technical and economic issues in internet charging models. We present a summary of the interexchange between Taxpayer Assets and the conference organizers and the unofficial and short conference summary. We also present Dave Hughes' critique of US West's actions in the Colorado legislature.

Wireless in the San Luis Valley p.20

A private update from Dave Hughes on his progress towards wireless by pass of the local loop in the San Luis Valley.

Part 2 of Colorado Study pp.21-22

We have room for only two pages this month. 72 pages left to publish. We shall publish very likely less than 20 more pages in regular issues of the Cook Report.