In the beginning, there was the post office


David Morris on the twilight of public interest communications in the US @ Guernica
In the beginning, there was the post office. Before the Internet, before cable, before TV, before radio, mail delivery was our major means of mass communication. The founders of the United States understood its importance and deemed that it must be a public institution. Article I, Section 8, Clause 7, of the U.S. Constitution states, “Congress shall have Power to establish Post Offices and Post Roads.”

Congress wanted the U.S. Post Office to be a monopoly. In 1792, it prohibited the private transmission of any letter or packet “on any established post-road,” as well as the establishment of any competing postal service by foot, horse, vessel, boat, or “any conveyance whatever, whereby the revenue of the general post-office may be injured.”

But the Post Office still had to deal with private companies that found loopholes in these rules. In 1845, in response to private post companies cherry-picking the most profitable big-city routes, Congress closed loopholes and increased penalties for the private delivery of certain types of mail.

This was justified because the Post Office had a broader mission than simply delivering letters—it was dedicated to spreading information as widely as possible. Indeed, the way the Post Office historically set postage rates exhibited its qualities as a commons.
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