Out of Its Domain


While most Americans would be content with the U.S. Postal Service if it simply delivered "snail mail" reliably, the agency has boldly set its sights on cyberspace. The USPS wants to control the "top-level" domain .us. A top-level domain is the final Internet suffix that can identify an e-mail account's or World Wide Web site's country of origin, as in Although not very common in the United States, top-level domains are used in many European countries, and in 1997 the Clinton administration decided the idea of encouraging such usage was worth exploring. The White House asked the USPS to draft a proposal to run the operation and put forward a plan "to commit substantial resources to accelerate the development of .us as an enabling framework for electronic commerce." The USPS said it would do this by providing "universal" access to geographically based electronic addresses (such as for all U.S. residents.

As might be expected, the thought of bringing the USPS' particular brand of efficiency to cyberspace has not exactly been well-received. Critics of the plan, such as Mikki Barry of the Domain Name Rights Coalition, a nonprofit that lobbies for fair and open domain name practices, point out that the USPS has no relevant expertise in the area of top-level domain administration and argue that it would likely bungle the job.

If an amendment to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Reauthorization Act proposed by Rep. Chris Cox (R-Calif.) passes, the USPS will have no role to play in delivering e-mail. Cox doesn't just worry about USPS incompetence; he fears that the postal service would try to undercut competitors in a new area that threatens traditional mail. "We're concerned [the USPS] would leverage their existing monopoly and the advantages they have–not paying taxes, not being regulated the same way–to disadvantage their competitors," an aide to Cox told Wired News in August. "They've shown a willingness to play that game."