Minneapolis to send mail to virtual mailboxes

Minneapolis has become the fourth city nationally to send mail online.

by Luke Feuerherm

The city of Minneapolis announced last week that it will start sending mail to citizens over the Internet. Communications from the city are now available through e-mail accounts at Zumbox.com. The accounts are unique in that they are connected to citizensâÄô current street addresses. Examples of information already sent by the government through the service include an invitation to the cityâÄôs budget meeting, snow removal information and a welcome letter from Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Council President Barb Johnson, who instituted the new mailing system. âÄúResidents already have an inbox set up,âÄù said Jenna Goldberg, public relations associate for Zumbox. While anyone can use the system, an access card needs to be requested and sent to the residentâÄôs physical mailbox before sensitive mail can be retrieved online. âÄúIt is a very efficient, cost-effective way for us to communicate with the people of Minneapolis,âÄù said city spokesman Matt Lindstrom. Before becoming paperless, the city of Minneapolis first must acquire public acceptance of this form of communication. âÄúAt this point, we are using Zumbox as an additional way to communicate with the people of Minneapolis,âÄù Lindstrom said. âÄúWe are just trying to get people to sign.âÄù Minneapolis joins New York City; Newark, N.J.; and San Francisco as cities that have adopted Zumbox in hopes of going paperless. âÄúThis is a way for the city to save money and reduce waste stream,âÄù Goldberg said. While Zumbox stands to save the city of Minneapolis money, it is posing a growing threat to traditional postal services. âÄúItâÄôs probably the biggest threat mail has ever faced,âÄù said Michael Crew, professor of economics at Rutgers University. Peter Nowacki, a spokesperson for the United States Postal Service, explained that the effect of the cityâÄôs decision cannot compare to the negative effect the current economic recession has had on the USPS. The USPS lost 12 percent of its mail volume nationwide last year due to the recession and the growth of Internet recourses like online bill pay, Nowacki said. Crew described the computer as the next in a long line of threats to mail, including the telephone and fax machine. Crew also noted the public anxiety over the Internet, including the issue of security and prevalence of spam. âÄúIt depends on how people accept it,âÄù Nowacki said. Zumbox and the city of Minneapolis are optimistic that citizens will be eager to adopt their online approach. âÄúIf enough people sign up to accept mail from the city of Minneapolis, then we would look at possibly doing paperless mail,âÄù Lindstrom said.