Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Gives PC Postage The Stamp of Approval




WASHINGTON -- Two California-based computer companies have won the right to sell postage over the Internet, a revolutionary process that will allow the public to use personal computers and laser printers to print stamps.


It is the first major change in the way stamps have been produced since postage meters were developed 80 years ago. "We think it's going to be wildly successful,'' said Pam Gibert, the Postal Service vice president who oversaw the project.


It was not a happy day for postage meter king Pitney Bowes Inc., which has accused both companies - E-Stamp Corp. of San Mateo and Stamps.com of Santa Monica - of infringing on its patent for a process it calls "Click Postage.''


The E-Stamp system requires the purchase of a $49.99 "stamp vault'' that is attached to a personal computer and functions as a repository for the postage purchased by the user from the E-Stamp web site. Stamps can then be printed without going online, an advantage that E-Stamp says should make its system more user-friendly than Stamps.com.


To use Stamps.com, a publicly owned firm whose directors include former Postmaster General Marvin Runyon, the consumer must remain online, connected to a web site with special software that prints the postage an envelope.


Both systems will provide postage at a price roughly 10 percent above the face value of the stamps printed.


Two other companies, Neopost Inc. and Pitney, are awaiting postal service approval for their systems.


The U.S. Postal Service's announcement Monday that E-Stamp and Stamps.com could begin selling their service immediately was muted by Pitney's insistence that senior postal officials not mention the approval during a news conference Monday. So the announcement was made in a news release and officials confined their remarks to proclaiming the merits of the Postal Service's own "PC Postage'' project, the umbrella program under which the private companies will operate.


Postmaster General William Henderson and Gibert referred only to the competition among four companies, all of whom were invited to the ceremony and allowed to display their systems.


In their comments, neither Henderson nor Gibert referred to the coup the two younger companies had scored over Pitney. Asked about the omission, Henderson said that the agency had announced the approvals at the bottom of a two-page release and that no further remarks were necessary.


Both Henderson and Gibert said the federal agency did not want to appear to endorse any of the four Internet rivals. "We have to play the role of a regulator and have a level playing field,'' Gibert said.