Text size

Watch out, Walla. Take heed, Google: the Israel Postal Company will shortly be competing in the electronic arena to provide e-mail boxes and services to customers, if not in other areas controlled by the online giants.

The postal service's motivation is simple: It must prepare for an era when regular mail, featuring envelopes and a stamp, disappears altogether and is replaced by electronic communications.

Once an authority and converted a year and a half ago into a government company, the Postal Company is going high-tech. It isn't planning to turn into an Internet company per se, just to provide e-mail boxes and services, according to an announcement from the Communications Ministry yesterday.

The communique states that Communications Minister Ariel Atias feels that the Postal Company must become financially stronger by expanding its range of services.

His final approval for expansion into e-mail is expected shortly.

In fact, the Postal Company would simply become part of a global trend in which post offices worldwide are modernizing by providing electronic mail services to complement "snail mail" - that olden form of stamped letter wending its way through sleet or sandstorm on horse, tank, camel, whatever.

At present, e-mail services are controlled entirely by Internet service providers. The probability that Israel's post office will become a gorilla in the midst of the giants is miniscule.

But theoretically, if it packages its e-mail services with other offerings, it could well carve itself out a niche among the relatively elderly seeking their feet in the Internet era, and among small businesses as well.

Indeed, the future service could beautifully suit the needs of small businesses. Imagine the possibility of sending an e-mail to a Postal Company service and having it forwarded, registered.

Yigal Levi, the director general responsible for the Postal Company at the Communications Ministry, commented that to tell the truth, the ministry has no idea what to expect when the company starts providing e-mail service.

Levi did say, however, that there is no intention of turning the Postal Company into a telecommunications provider.

The company could, however, become a key player in another government dream, Kasefet (safe, as in Fort Knox). That program envisions a future in which the Israeli government is essentially paper-free and handles all its communications via electronic media.

Beyond traditional snail-mail and e-mail, however, the Communications Ministry has another dream for the Postal Company: hybrid mail services. Which means: you could send an e-mail to the post office. The post office would print it and post it onward to your mailing list. At this stage, the Communications Ministry means to limit the number of letters that could be sent this way, at possibly 10,000 or 20,000. Moreover, hybrid mail service would be confined to private individuals or small businesses.