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The USPS-Selling Zip Codes or Public Information? 203

Posted by Cliff
from the things-to-think-about dept.
An Anonymous Coward asks: "What is the definition of public information? Would you think that the official names of cities and their Zip Codes would be public? In a way it is, because the USPS will allow you to do a lookup against their online database. The tricky part is trying to get the entire list, then the USPS wants you to pay. They could very easily provide the information in any database or comma delimited format on their website but they choose not to. Why? They are making a lot of money reselling this information to companies who repackage it and then sell it to the public. " Hmm...good point. But are zipcodes really public information?
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The USPS-Selling Zip Codes or Public Information?

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  • As one coming from Europe, this country is strange: everyone is trying to make the most money out of anyone else: your neighbour, brother... makes no difference.

    How long it will take until the map will be something private?

    I just saw a couple of weeks ago a big sign in the continuation of a big street saying that from that point on, the traffic is no longer public.

    But looking up and down the street, I can not see any difference...

    ZIP codes are not the property of USPS... It's just a mean to slice the country in easy pieces.

    I don't own my house address... I just happen to use it. I can not sell it to you.

    But I cannot stop thinking that one day some wise guy will buy from the government all the rights to the name of my street and I will have to pay him royalties for using it on my mails.

    It's just crazy.


    If you want to see my .sig send $2 at ...
  • by emad (4377)
    Yeah I noticed this last time i was looking up my zip+4. The way I figure is, its okay to sell public information as long as you don't claim ownership and control of that information. Basically, you to have the privilge (along with everyone else) of selling that information.

    If this is true, would it be possible for someone to buy the zip codes and then post them to a web site? Its public info right?
  • by BMIComp (87596)
    This whole question is a little confusing. Is there a question of whether ZIP codes are public info? Of course they are... and, do you have to buy it? I'm pretty sure you can get them from the post office almost free.. if not completely.
  • Just like everything else in life, this sucks.

    Everywhere in commercialism there is someone withholding what should be free.

    And what do we do about it?

    Complain about it electronically. Bitch to our friends. We sit around and let our lives be run by someone else with all the power.

    Try and change this and you are labeled a criminal or insane.

    Food for thought.

    Josh
    XYZ-I finish what I start

  • by Ravenfeather (21614) on Sunday December 19, 1999 @09:07PM (#1460511)

    What an interesting question! I am not a lawyer, but this seems like it might fall under the Freedom of Information act.

    For a bit of background, I quote from one of the government's own web sites [fws.gov] on the Act.

    The right of the public to obtain information held by the Federal Government is summarized in a report published by the U.S. House of Representatives, entitled "A Citizens Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 to Request Government Records" (H.Rpt. 102-146 [state.tx.us]), as follows:

    The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) establishes a presumption that records in the possession of agencies and departments of the Executive Branch of the United States government are accessible to the people. This was not always the approach to federal information disclosure policy. Before enactment of the FOIA in 1966, the burden was on the individual to establish a right to examine these government records. There were no statutory guidelines or procedures to help a person seeking information. There were no judicial remedies for those denied access. With the passage of the FOIA, the burden of proof shifted from the individual to the government. Those seeking information are no longer required to show a need for information. Instead, the "need to know" standard has been replaced by a "right to know" doctrine. The government now has to justify the need for secrecy.
    The FOIA sets standards for determining which records must be disclosed and which records can be withheld. The law also provides administrative and judicial remedies for those denied access to records.
    Above all, the statute requires federal agencies to provide the fullest possible disclosure of information to the public.
    [ The emphasis is my own. ]
  • Zip codes are designed to make life easier for the postal department. You look at the code and know which PO is being referred to. You could send a letter without zip codes, with the postal dept having to take the trouble of vgrepping a text based list.(I'm not a US resident, so I can't be sure). They could sell the information by charging for the media, but not for the information itself. But if they are putting up the data on a website, they might as well make it free. Or are they making a profit by selling public information?

    (Or is there a patent on zip codes? :)).
  • by BMIComp (87596)
    I already posted on the subject, but... i think the reason the USPS offers online Zip codes for refrence... but offering lists of zip codes would be troublesome... some they let third-party companies offer them... for less of a hassle....
  • When I was checking out putting real estate info on CDROM back in the early 80's I ran up against many of the city/county asessor's offices that had made a deal with one paticular company that they alone would have sole right to microfiche the books. No other company could come in and reproduce the books. As we were a small startup this hit us big time and stopped us right there from going further. If you wanted the data of real estate transactions you could get it on 1200 bpi 9 track tape for any where from $2K to $20K per tape. Sheesh.

    I had thought that information that was gather via public taxes and fees should be availible to the public for no additional cost. Boy were we naive.
  • by quadong (52475) on Sunday December 19, 1999 @09:14PM (#1460516) Homepage
    Can't you get a basically free listing in the World Almanac? I mean, I guess it is not searchable, being on paper, but it is there, all you would need to do is either (1) get a lot of people to each copy a column into the comptuer and send it somewhere or (2) scan it in and use (very good probably to the point of non-existant) software to translate bitmap to text. I don't know what USPS sells it for, but it seems that it could be worth it to "open source" the data this way. (Oh and I understand that the World Almanac is not free, but the zip code part of it is like .5% of the total, so...)

    Maybe the World Almanac is not complete? I dunno.
  • Hi,
    The same quesiton could be asked for Canada. You can buy a book with the postal codes and type it in and it is legitimate. You can also pay for it of course (CanadaPost.ca - To order a Postal Code directory [canadapost.ca])

    In the case of geographic data, I first turned to both mapblast and mapquest and after a few telephones, it turned out they would charge as much as 1$ per city for lattitude/longitude data.

    Spent some more time on the phone and after 15 minutes, I got a government agency that would sell me the whole QC province information in any format I wished (access, DB, SQL dump, etc) for ~ 20$. How do you explain that?

    Global greed warming.


    --
    Notepad specialist & FAT administrator, group training available Fabian Rodriguez
  • by BJH (11355)

    Here in Japan, you can walk into virtually any post office in the country and pick up a book of zip codes for the entire country for a nominal fee. I believe they even supply them free to comapnies.

    And believe me, since the switch to seven-figure zip codes a couple of years ago, they're pretty precise. My zip code covers an area of about one square kilometer.

  • by AME (49105)
    Establish an open source ZIP code repository?

  • In general, I agree with you. However, I thought that the Freedom of Information Act (see my post on the subject) set limits on the ability of the government itself to make a profit from the provision of public information. But IANAL; perhaps there is someone here who can tell us for certain.
  • one could argue (and i'm sure the USPS would!) that while the information itself is free, you are paying for their having "compiled" it for you, when you buy the whole lot.

    well, that and they know a lot of businesses *need* that information, and as they have an effective monopoly on it, that they can get away with it...

    to draw a parallel, when you pay your $29.95 for a linux distribution on cd, you're obviously not only paying for the cost of producing the package, but in addition the effort the company has put in to throw the whole lot together.

    the implication of this actually endorses the USPS' actions - you can get the information free of charge as you need it (one would equate to downloading linux online... fine for one or two packages, inconvenient for a whole distro), but you pay for the convenience - and that's the key, here, of getting the whole lot done for you.

    Fross
  • That's always been an odd one in my opinion. How much is the USPS a government agency, and how much is it a federally approved corporate monopoly? I mean, it does exist to make a profit, it has a .com instead of a .gov. But they're federally protected. They own our mailboxes, and seemingly our zip codes (and perhaps our street addresses -- I've heard that argument once before, I believe).

    Makes me want to go back and re-read my Pynchon. We need some W.A.S.T.E. around here...
    ------
    WWhhaatt ddooeess dduupplleexx mmeeaann??

  • You can find databases of City/State to ZIP databases easily. What's actually valuable are more detailed databases.

    For those not in the US, our postal codes (called ZIP codes) are 5 digits long. Every city has at least one, and some have many many more. In the early 90's, the post office added 4 digits to it, to narrow down to at least the street level, making computer sorting possible.

    For me to translate '60618' to being 'Chicago, IL' is something that's pretty easy. I believe that old BSD distro's even came with a text file with all the zip codes. To translate my address to '60618-1481' is much more difficult. Even being able to tell which chicago zipcode my address belongs in (60618 is one of many), requires a full address database.

    It's not really plausable to put a database this size up on the net. Several companies also pay the USPS a licensing fee to sell the database. Many also do 'value-added' additions, such as time zones, and the such. The last time I checked, a compressed database for the entire US to give street level zip lookups was around 4 CD's worth. I don't believe the USPS can justify the bandwidth costs in letting people download it, especially when a database of this size has to be difficult to maintain. (It's somewhere around 40 million records)

    This company [zipcodedatabase.com] sells a pretty comprehensive set of CD's. It's not too expensive considering what you get. Especially if you send large amounts of mail, being able to verify the address/zipcode before you pay the 33 cents is nice.

    Basically, Downloading a database this size isn't plausable for them, so they pretty much have to sell it on physical media... Now, if their raw data (not data that OEM's have added) is copyrightable, who knows. Perhaps one person can buy the raw data and put it on their ftp server? Who knows.

    I thought it was illegal for government agencies to apply for copyrights... or was it patents? (I know there's the loophole for patents that an outside company can apply for the patent, then transfer it to the government)

    Kevin

  • After the whole 'net censorship debacle, it's nice to see that us down under in australia can still avoid some brainless decisions.

    here AusPost publish every postcode in the back of the freely delivered White Pages phonebook, and you can still visit the austpost web site and download the entire list in CSV....
  • It's pretty obvious that the zip codes are public, since that's how the public sends mail to a particular place. If the zipcode were "private" it would be practically impossible to do business by mail. Or to use it for any other purpose for that matter.

    There is a way to look up any Zip Code on line, you can do it at the USPS's Zip code lookups page [usps.gov]

    That said, the only people who have a use for a large database of zipcodes are mass marketers, and IMHO they OUGHT to pay for having it. I don't want it to be any easier than it needs to be for those morons to send me dead trees.

  • by trims (10010) on Sunday December 19, 1999 @09:25PM (#1460526) Homepage

    Zip codes are public information. As are street addresses, with the associated occupant name. However, the issue here is not of access to the information (the Freedom of Information Act guarrantees you can get it), but the ease with which you can get it.

    The FOIA says nothing about the format, or relative accessibility of the information that you request. The government is not obligated to give it to you in the format or way you want it. They just have to give it to you. People who've done research into alot of old events can atest to this: rather than get a nicely indexed and annotated set of transcripts, they get a huge stack of unlabeled and unsorted documents. Digging through them is the effort.

    Honestly, I don't have a problem with it this way. The government shouldn't be in the business of neatly packaging everything for anyone who asks. Deliberately hiding the truth is one thing, but they've got alot better things than being able to give any Tom, Dick, or Harry a complete, nicely pressed and indexed book of any random information they request.

    That's the value-add that those companies selling the Zip-codes have. They get the info from the govn't (which might have done some pre-sorting it for their convenience, and rightly charges for it), and then package it up for you to use in a slick format. You can get the information from any Post Office you ask, but I'm sure it's not going to be in a nice electronic format. After all, you're getting it for free.

    Honestly, people, we're getting really lazy these days.

    -Erik

  • by kinesis (13238) on Sunday December 19, 1999 @09:28PM (#1460527)
    Fuck this shit. FREEdom of information.

    http://sharedlib.org/zips.zip [sharedlib.org]

    Enjoy.
  • Many years ago I bought a dead tree version of the zip code directory from the local post office. It was as big as a phone book, and about two inches thick. I don't think it would fit into the World Almanac. Remember, it has to include the zip code of every address in every city, and the countryside as well.
  • What this means is that for some things it costs money or at least more money for the government to get that information to you.
    Think about it. Yes the information that identifies a position in the US via a ZIP code as public inbformation. You could very easily just get a collection of all of these and just publish them in an open source book or something.
    What really takes it in the government's rear is trying to pay or distrubute everything to everyone cost effectively or conviently. Do they tend to want to favor more money to fund their activities? Yes. Will they prevent you from obtaining that information? No.
    Their search interface probably gets more hits per day than you might realize. Since they can only afford so much to pay for maintaince and upgrading the server for content then they need a way to offset that cost so they have the entire thing to sell in a printed version.
    For something similar take a look at http://thomas.loc.gov and look at the congressional reccord. This reccords every single thing that is done or said in the house and the sente for the day. Now you can get the entire thing off their web site for free but if you want something more convient you have to talk to the government printing office http://www.gpo.gov. Since everyone wants budget cuts and lower taxes this is what we get.
    As for your concern about street names this is not likely. If you want to have someone use you address you can just sell your house. Just similarly how say 234.34.123.34 is an address to someplace on the internet and is owned by a computer as a physical address in a geographical locality the same can be said for a house address. If someone were to but names of things you would have Cleavlend in Minnesota or LA in New York State. This cannot happen.
  • Yes, but does it mention putting a price on it? Thats the real issue. =P
  • I believe you'll find that the licensing issue comes from the costs in distributing the data. The full database is fairly large large and there's apparently a bit of cleanup involved as well (Also IIRC, the data was developed for internal usage; as is often the case it needs a little packaging before being sent outside). If you look at the costs, it's around a $900 to get a copy on CD-ROM according to the price guide on page 113 [usps.gov] of the USPS's product doc. I think once you factor in the production costs (which aren't amortized over a huge distribution base) this is probably not that unreasonable. Unless I'm mis-remembering, government agencies are allowed to charge fees to cover production costs on information, even if they're required to give it to you. Even though the USPS has a somewhat unusual position compared to more traditional government agencies, this probably still applies.
  • by Yet Another Smith (42377) on Sunday December 19, 1999 @09:45PM (#1460536)
    Actually, there are probably as many things that are free in the US and for sale in Europe as vice versa.

    For example, of the industrialized countries I have dealt with, only the US does not copyright its topographic maps. I can remember off the top of my head that Canada, the UK, Belgium, and the Netherlands all maintain copyrights on government topographic maps, making it illegal to copy this data.

    The USGS (United States Geological Survey), on the other hand, sells hardcopy topographic maps, digital elevation models, aerial photos, and even satelite imagery for about the cost of printing and shipping, or for some nominal cost of creation. The maps are not copyrighted, and any individual or business can copy, resell, alter, fold, spindle, or mutilate these maps at will. All US digital topographic data for the US is available for free via FTP. The US is unique in this, as far as I know, and this is part of my job.

    The same is true for FCC market deliniations, and a great deal of Census Bureau data, including extensive street-network and hydrography data.

    So it is probably unfair to cast the US as being cash-obsessed and the EU as being a non-materialist utopian society. Counter-examples do exist.
  • The information IS free, the compiling of it into a usable form is not. Why is this such a hard concept to understand? If you want to take the time to compile a list of every city in the US and their zip code, you are welcome to do it. But if someone has ALREADY done it, I for one would be willing to pay for that.
    Why do so many people have trouble distinguishing between raw data and usable information? This is a no brainer to me. That's why I pay for maps. Sure I could go to city hall, get the list of street names and the fucking surveyors maps or whatever, and create my own map. But why!!
    Every book ever written is in the dictionary, but I'll gladly pay for someone to put the words in order.
  • by adamsc (985) on Sunday December 19, 1999 @09:48PM (#1460540) Homepage
    That said, the only people who have a use for a large database of zipcodes are mass marketers
    There are also a few of us demented web developers who've wanted to do address validation in the past while selling stuff online. (Not just for billing, either. Doing a lookup is a good way of reducing the number of mis-delivered packages. ("According to the USPS, that address doesn't exist. Send anyway?") For some businesses this can add up to a non-trivial savings.)
  • I think the post entitled Public Information, F.O.I.A, and accessibility.... [slashdot.org] gets this exactly right. The government is obliged to give you the information, and to hide it. Charging an excessive fee ("Sure, we'll tell you who killed Kennedy, just pay us 14 billion dollars and 37 cents") is not Freedom of Information.

    Now here's the harder question. What is the definition of "excessive?" Surely the government (and ultimately the taxpayers) should not have to routine eat the cost of the media involved. Nor should they have to eat the cost of formatting the data exactly as the requestor desires.

    Myself? I figure as long as the data is available in some form, that's just fine. The F.O.I.A. is supposed to prevent the government from unnecessarily restricting access to information. It is not meant to force the government to play reference librarian to the whole country.

  • Honestly, I don't have a problem with it this way. The government shouldn't be in the business of neatly packaging everything for anyone who asks. Deliberately hiding the truth is one thing, but they've got alot better things than being able to give any Tom, Dick, or Harry a complete, nicely pressed and indexed book of any random information they request.

    I disagree. The whole point of government is to serve the people. I think this is something that has been forgotten over the years and has almost become expected that politicians be self-serving while putting on a little song and dance for "the little people". This apathy allows things such as this to happen.

    If I want every zip code in America in a nice neat little package on CD-ROM, should I have to pay for it? Yes, about the price of producing the CD. Why shouldn't I pay more? Because not only is this public information, but it's information that's freely available. If the information were public but held by a company, I would understand them wanting to turn a profit for their time and devolpment. The goverment I expect to do what I (not particuarly *ME* but the majority) to do because that is why they hold a public office.

    P.S.
    People are not lazy because they ask for free information to be released in a useable format, they're merely asking the government to do their job. What we tell them to.

    --Aaron
  • I went and looked at the USPS web site, and their description of the data supports this analysis.

    The zip+4 database contains 35 million records. I would guess that each record could be atleast 50 bytes. That's 1.7GB uncompressed. If the actual geographic boundaries are necessary (each zipcode is a polygonal area on the Earth's surface, after all, and possibly requiring double-precission definitions for the vertices) it could be a heck of a lot larger. That's getting a bit big to be FTPing around all day. I'd certainly put the whole thing on CDs and charge some nominal fee for the digital data.

    Alternatively, if the USPS didn't have that data digitally already, they might have paid some company to compile it, enter it into a computer, and create a database. That cost money, so that company gets the right to sell the fruits of their labor. It's kind of like somebody who writes a text book on physics. They don't own the laws of physics, but they do own thier description of it. If you don't want to pay for thier description of physics, you go out and do the work on your own to compile that information.

  • Documentation from the Warren Commission and the House Selected Committee on assassinations both tell you who killed John F. Kennedy. and they are all released to the public.

    of course it was Lee Harvy Oswald.

    Duh

    the above is not the true opionion of the poster and is only there for slight humor on an off topic post. If you have problems with this post please direct them to /dev/null. Thank you for your cooperation.

  • by kaphka (50736) <1nv7b001@sneakemail.com> on Sunday December 19, 1999 @10:08PM (#1460545)
    For a while last year I was working on a massive demographic database for research purposes. At least, it was to be massive, eventually.

    The core of the database was to be (is?) data from the 1990 US Census. There's a whole lot more than population counts in there, folks... The entire Census is distributed on around 60 CD-ROMs.

    This information is "free," in the sense that you can find it at any official government document repository. You're "free" to lug in a wheelbarrow full of floppy disks, and copy the CD-ROMs onto them, one disk at a time. If you actually want your own copy on CDs, though, the price tag is well into the four figure range. (And let me tell you, getting a hold of the discs is only the beginning of the fun...)

    I suspect that this, and the similar situation with ZIP codes, is just another example of the $17,000 toilet seat phenomenon. Presumably, $100 per CD-R is considered a reasonable "duplication fee" in the beaurau... buerau... (good god, I need to go to bed...) bureaucratic world.
  • The information IS free, the compiling of it into a usable form is not. Why is this such a hard concept to understand? If you want to take the time to compile a list of every city in the US and their zip code, you are welcome to do it. But if someone has ALREADY done it, I for one would be willing to pay for that.

    The question isn't WOULD or even SHOULD your pay for it, but rather how MUCH should you have to pay. If dictionaries were $900, would you still buy one? At what point does charging X amount of dollars for compiling it become excessive? Does a government agency have the right to make a profit off of you?
  • "As one coming from Europe, this country is strange"

    When I was in Europe, I found strange stuff there as well. That does not make my way correct anymore than you perplexity makes your way right.

    "How long it will take until the map will be something private?"

    Most maps already are. Look in the bottom corner and you'll see a copyright. However, before you scream in frustration, understand that no one, no one at all, has a copyright on any actual geography, only on their little tiny representation of it. But don't complain about rude Americans copyrighting maps. I see that my German Langenscheidt dictionary is copyrighted.

    "I just saw a couple of weeks ago a big sign in the continuation of a big street saying that from that point on, the traffic is no longer public."

    I don't recall private streets in Europe, so they may be very rare there. But in the US, especially in rural areas, they are not uncommon. I don't understand what your problem is with them though. One road I know of in particular was built at private expense (along with the sewers, power and phone lines) to reach a rural area that served only five houses. They built it, it's theirs.

    "ZIP codes are not the property of USPS... It's just a mean to slice the country in easy pieces."

    It was the USPS that came up with ZIP codes, and they are the only ones with the authority to issue them. ZIP codes are only used by the USPS. Believe it or not, UPS will still deliver your packages without them.

    But understand that I do not agree with the USPS charging for it's database. As far as I am concerned, their mail monopoly should be revoked and they should compete with UPS, FedEx, et al, for the delivery of first class and bulk mail. I don't consider mail delivery to be any more important than food, but the government doesn't have a monopoly on grocery stores.

    "But I cannot stop thinking that one day some wise guy will buy from the government all the rights to the name of my street and I will have to pay him royalties for using it on my mails."

    That's just normal paranoia. Everyone gets it from time to time. Instead of worrying about someone buying those rights, consider why the government even holds those rights to begin with.

    "It's just crazy."

    You mean crazy that the world doesn't operate according to your personal philosophy? That's life...
  • "If I want every zip code in America in a nice neat little package on CD-ROM,
    should I have to pay for it? Yes, about the price of producing the CD. "

    The real question is "Is the CD copyrighted?". If not, then I don't see the problem. If enough people want it surely someone will buy a it and distribute copies at a reduced cost.
  • In today's world, the question is no longer is this information public, rather is it safe secure, in that can someone else use it.
    In the case of zip codes, there are very few conceivable ways that this information could be used against you. As such we can rule it is secure. In terms of whether it is public (information) or not, i am inclined to say it is. It is atleast as public (information) as Telephone numbers and addresses (e-mail included), if not more so (due to its less personal, ability to track so easily.)
  • I see this as sort of like the various linux distros selling CD's that contain publicly available software. In the linux case though, they don't even own it. From a taxpayer protection standpoint, it makes sense to sell the cd's. If they were free, every dickead with a telephone would order a copy, and the usps would pay a fortune to distribute it. If they charge a reasonable fee, only those who _really_ want it will get it. As long as the price is within the means of that average citizen, then I'd consider it a public service. It's similar to the "charging a reasonable fee for distributing free software" concept. When RedHat was charging $35 for a CD, I said hey that's a good deal, I'll go for that. Now that they've got prices in the $60-90 range, I get my CD's from cheapbytes. RedHat's prices are no longer reasonable. (Even $35 was up there) So I vote with my wallet.
    If the USPS makes their database searchable from the web site, great, everybody on the net can use it. If they start charging too much for (convenient) CD's, companies like cheapbytes will start reselling this "publicly available" information at a far lower price, thats how a free market economy works.
    -earl

  • Well, I was just at a B&N today, and they were having a special: the dictoinary, the Oxford English Dictionary, was only $960 for the whole set!
    Yeah, sure, I know that's the extreme here, every word known at the time it went to press and all, but still. Isn't that what this is what the list of all zip codes is?
  • This is nothing compared to what telemarketers and people like insurance agents have as a reference.

    My Uncle is an Insurance agent, I worked on his machines a few times as a favor. He had cd-roms just loaded with databases of people's names, addresses, incomes, and some have information of known insured properties with other companies.

    Point being: this information is easy to get. The USPS is just another source. Oregon DMV used to give out any information on anyone with a SSN and a Drivers License number, until someone posted a copy of thier publicly availiable database on the net. Since then policies have changed significantly.

    -Erik-
  • Thank you.

    What are the 7th and 8th rows? I'm guessing 7th to be 1990 cencus population in zip code, 8th maybe a calculated figure based on that?

    If there's any interest I know an anonymous source that could add some congressional district information to most of the zip codes. Accuracy won't be the best, but it's better than nothing.

    I'd like to see the ZIP+4 lists distributed, too; I have doubts about the utility of the information. The +4 codes are more internal to the individual post office than you might think, my mail carrier has hinted that those used after my zip code are his route, the other guy's route, and PO boxes. This being a government operation, these do not correlate with the Carrier Route codes in any way (CAR-RT SRT).

    I'd like to see the ADC and AADC tables and such made public, too, and the Carrier Route stuff and all the rest of their data. I can probably scrounge a non Berne Convention hosting service if I can get the data. Post here if you're interested, I'll get in touch.

    Having done too much third class and other bulk mail sorting in my day, let me take this opportunity to express my continued deep disgust with the PostOrifice(TM) Way of Doing Things.

    Insanely complex presort requirements that depend on vast databases which are more expensive than state secrets, and when you're done all your carefully banded trays get dumped into same sorting bin for the machines to process. Quarterly updates to the 7 volume rule book (that was years ago, it's probably grown); no way to actually lay hands on a current copy. Recent copies are available in "digital text" from a third party, if you've got Windows and the patience or desperation to use the crappy little viewer program it depends on.

    I could go on but I shouldn't. Anybody who does bulk mail with the intent of saving money instead of just giving some of the mailing costs to a big commercial outfit knows the rant in all details.
  • ...how hard it is to provide universal postal delivery.

    First off, the US Postal Service delivers more mail than virtually ALL PRIVATE COMPANIES COMBINED. Last I looked, they were planning on moving somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 BILLION pieces of mail, packages, etc. for the 1999 Christmas Season (that's late Nov -> late Dec). UPS and FedEx might be lucky to do a half-billion each in the same time frame. Thier job is an order of magnitude more difficult than private industry.

    Moving mail is an inordinately complex and complicated job. Express Delivery is actually MUCH EASIER than standard 1st-class mail. Granted, 3rd-class (bulk) and packaging (along with Priority and ExpressMail) are the same complexity as UPS and FedEx deal with, but there are several other things you forget:

    The $0.33 for a stamp gets that piece of mail anywhere in the US. The great thing about universal postage is that you (the consumer) don't have to think about it; no matter where it goes, it's the same cost. I seriously doubt that a private company could manage to maintain this, with competetive forces. You'd end up with pricing structure like: $.10 for cross-town, $.15 for the next city, $.25 for the next state ( or was that $.15, since the next state is 10 miles away.. Whoops!). At the bare minimum, you'd end up with a regional cost structure - look at how UPS charges for where you send a package. And to put a more fine point on it, the USPS is cheaper than either FedEx or UPS at the same thing. Looked at book-rate shipping? Or how about comparing the cost of a overnight package?

    Also, the USPS give UNIVERSAL SERVICE. Yeah, right, if you privatize things, you think anyone is going to get mail out in West Nowheresville? It's not "profitable". How many places do FedEx and UPS not deliver to that the USPS does?

    Yes, perhaps the P.O. clerk isn't alot more skilled than a 7-eleven guy. But that doesn't have any affect on the reasoning behind the USPS. Some things are far better done by a government monopoly - mail service is a shining example of one. It's very efficient (for a large organization), cheap (no one in the world beats it for price/features), and dependable (UPS and FedEx lose stuff too, remember? And at not really any different frequency.).

    Bottom line, the USPS works, works well, and works far better than some "privitized" system would.

    -Erik
    Think before you spew...

  • Yeah but try getting any geographic data (satellite imagery (Landsat TM scenes)or ground-validated GIS stuff) out of NASA's DAACs... I used to work at an ESIP, and the entire reason we were being funded was that this sort of data was not conveniantly available (nor cheap) for researchers to obtain.

    What was really twisted is that we were being funded by NASA, and most of our budget went into buying such data sets from NASA DAACs...

    We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars --Oscar Wilde
  • by GoRK (10018) <johnl@bPLANCKlurbco.com minus physicist> on Sunday December 19, 1999 @10:59PM (#1460557) Homepage Journal
    This is simply a case of an entity charging a service fee for packaging free data. HELLO this is what RedHat and all the other linux distros do. You want it on a CD? You (or somebody) pays (at the very least) shipping and handling (cover our costs) charges. In some cases you pay big bucks for value added services such as support. This is no different than what the post office is doing.

    You want the entire list for free? Go to the post office and you may freely molest the paper zip code directory chained to the counter. You can even hand copy or photograph each page if you so desire. Its when you need the data in your hot little hands that money starts to be an issue. Sure the zip code information is politically free but what about the people who sit around all day assigning zones and keeping the central database updated? What about the people that typeset that enormous tome chained to the post office counter? That's going to cost you money! This is a no brainer. The post office is in the right!

    Here's an idea: How about some nice resourceful individuals get off of their bitch-against-corporate-america asses and start an open information project like the one for road maps of the USA (I forget the name/address) and compile a list of zip codes and their associated information into a nice manageable database and give it out free?

    ~GoRK
  • here [auspost.com.au]

    IMHO, government agencies should provide this information for no more than the cost of making it available (in this case virtually nothing).

  • By the way, folks, in an effort to reduce your tax bill (hah!) the US has spun the USPS off into a "public" company. That means that the USPS is expected to be run "for profit", even though congress ultimately controlls the USPS. (Think of the USPS as a corporation with our congresscritters on the board of directors.)

    Amongst other things, that means the USPS is expected to charge for "free" information in order to cover the cost of duplication, packaging, and having a secretary drop it in the mail to you. And if they can figure out a way to make a profit, they will.

    It's either that, or paying an extra penny or two in USPS subsidies.
  • What is to stop someone from buying the full list of ZIP codes and then re-packaging them for free?


  • In Hungary you can actually buy a _book_ with all the zip codes and city/village names and streets listed in alphabetic order.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Buy BeOS. They include zipcode.txt
  • by w3woody (44457) on Sunday December 19, 1999 @11:28PM (#1460564) Homepage
    Too late; been there, done that. In fact, the USPS has already been privatized--while they still answer to the US Congress under Title 39, they are ran "for profit" with it's own CEO and board of trustees.

    Read more here at http://www.usps.gov/history/history/his3.htm#REORG [usps.gov]

    And that's why we pay $0.33 for a first-class mail stamp, boys and girls--because that's about what it costs on average to deliver that piece of mail to anywhere in the United States, including all those pesky little territories and to the US millitary men serving abroad. Last I checked, FedEx will also provide delivery of your letters--but for about one and a half orders of magnitude more.
  • Federal government publications are not copyrighted. Federal employees are usually encouraged to apply for patents on new technology.

    I'm not sure about software copyrights. I once got into an argument with an engineer who included copyright notices in his source code, he insisted that the software could be copyrighted, even though it was written by civil service employees.

    Would the courts consider the USPS a private corporation or a component of the federal government?

  • If you'd like to pay for the bandwidth so the USPS can let you download what apparently is 4 CDs worth of data (for the ZIP+4 database), then, by all means, step up to the plate. Some of us have better things to do than start holy wars over everyone who has the gall to charge for a service though.
  • It's easy to get the 5-digit ZIP code database. It's all over the place online. Please search around a little.

    I got it from here. [qrz.com]

    -A.P.
    --


    "One World, one Web, one Program" - Microsoft promotional ad

  • how much is it a federally approved corporate monopoly?

    Hmm... how can the USPS be a monopoly when you have UPS, FedEx, TNT and dozens of other carriers transporting mail and packages around the country?

  • I thought the whole point of zip codes is to make it easier for the postal service to deliver mail. The harder the postal service makes it to access zip codes then it's more likely people will omit the codes. Then the postal service has a harder job.


  • If I want every zip code in America in a nice neat little package on CD-ROM, should I have to pay for it? Yes, about
    the price of producing the CD. Why shouldn't I pay more? Because not only is this public information, but it's
    information that's freely available. If the information were public but held by a company, I would understand them
    wanting to turn a profit for their time and devolpment. The goverment I expect to do what I (not particuarly *ME* but
    the majority) to do because that is why they hold a public office.


    Ahhhh....but do "the majority" want a cd rom of all the zip codes in the US? I doubt it. My feeling is they have enough trouble doing the big things which the majority clearly do want, so I'd rather they didn't spend too much time or resources on things like this which are of a minority interest.

    Just a thought...
  • "As far as I am concerned, their mail monopoly should be revoked and they should compete with UPS, FedEx, et al, for the delivery of first class and bulk mail."

    You're kidding here right? The USPS is a branch of the government, not a busness. It is not out to make a profit, nor does it. Do you think FedEx or UPS would deliver a letter anywhere in the country for a meer 33 cents? Perhaps we should end the "monopoly" the military has as well?
  • by deno (814)

    I wonder if I could have a population data too? This would make a "linuxcounter" [linuxcounter.org] database of USA much easier to maintain!

    If anyone has such a database for other countries (how about the whole world?), please send it to me! I need "Town/state/country", and having "lingitude/latitude" and "inhabitants" would be great!

  • In Sweden the postoffice charges only a nominal fee for all the zip-codes on a disk.

    Probably they figure their cost of incorrectly addressed mail is what really costs.

  • If you look at my free U.S. street map data [perens.com] There are zip+4 codes and congressional district boundaries in there, and they are not encumbered.

    Bruce

  • Postcodes here in the UK are the intellectual property of the Royal Mail, they sell the PAF (Postal Addresses File) for 1500 pounds...
    Mind you we have to pay 101 pounds for the priveledge(????) of watching TV.
    Rich (who's hooked the damned thing into several web sites)
  • I don't remember exactly how the arrangement works, but isn't the USPS an autonomous commercial unit? (In which case the FOIA might not apply to them).
  • by Anonymous Coward
    http://www.census.gov/cgi-bin/gazetteer
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I work at the USPS and with the SOME of the databases used to drive teh beast. I'm NOT going to log in and risk being harrassed. The database should be available but the real issues are more about the accuracy and embarrassment we would have should the information get out. Plus 4? HA! Doesn't even work from a centralized database. Most of them are 9998 which means 'Postmaster', i.e., "We don't know a real plus 4". Additionally the USPS isn't really centrally governed/managed. The country is divided up into 85 'Districts' which have their own head honchos. It's more like a Kingdom and Baronies than anything. The reason you get your mail is because the people are really GOOD at delivering it. If you addressed it to "Momma Dialy" in Pokemon, MN and just through it to the winds the human equivalent of DNS would get it there. Someone would send it to MN, they would route it to Pokemon, and more than likely someone would know just who the hell "Momma Dialy" is and get your mail there. Really. What DOES the zip do? Saves processing time and money. I've heard it only costs three cents to *process* a zip coded letter - but have no data on what the unzip coded one costs :(. I'd love to hook an open sourced program like GRASS up with USPS ZIPCODE data. 1. The commercial version USPS sells to vendors for sending JUNK(uh, we call it 'bulk') MAIL is wrong. They shouldn't be able to do it without my permission if they link it to my name. 2. If it was open sourced it would possibly be MORE ACCURATE!! What you really should be worrying about is this LARGEST CORPORATION trying to automate and eventually map your name to a specific address in the worlds largest advertising database. They are very proud of the fact that they have more face-to-face contact with the customer than anyone else, and have almost no clue as to privacy other than the mandates of congress (all personal data must be encrypted when sent over LAN/WAN lines) and are trying to be profitable and more corporate like. And we all know once a corporation has our data what they are going to do with it - whatever they damn well please. They wouldn't? You mean because they are regulated? Like the perhaps the DNS records are really regulated by the government and no corporation could stand against that right? Pah!
  • In Hungary you can actually buy a _book_ with all the zip codes and city/village names and streets listed in alphabetic order.

    Well, so you could in Sweden. It was very cheap (don't remember if it was actually free).
    Then they made it availiable on diskettes for free. You could easily walk down to your nearest postoffice and fetch it. It was a simple database, and a small DOS utility for searching. Type in the street address, the city, and up pops the zip code ("postnummer"). Or vice versa.

    Then came the Internet era, and they made it searchable through the web [postnet.se]. Note that you can still download the whole thing [postnet.se] for free if you want to. There's a Win95 version and a Mac version (maybe I should ask for a Linux version? ;).

    So they have always treated it as free information. The Swedish Postal Service ("Posten") is still the only authority that issues zip codes, but the zip code index is public information.
    Maybe this is how it should be in the US?

  • The USPS has probably the single most valuable database in the world -- the names and addresses of very close to 100 percent of all Americans. If MS had such a database, people would be PO'd.
  • Is the US law is similar to UK law, it often is, then there is a legal difference between individual facts and a collection of those facts.

    Each individual fact may be in the public domain but a collection of those facts can be a protectable work. It's the act of collection that gives rise to something that may be protected.

  • Maybe this might be the answer to your question... direct from the USPS web site. In May 1969, four months after he became a member of President Richard Nixon's Cabinet, Postmaster General Winton M. Blount proposed a basic reorganization of the Post Office Department. The President asked Congress to pass the Postal Service Act of 1969, calling for removal of the Postmaster General from the Cabinet and creation of a self-supporting postal corporation wholly owned by the federal government.
  • Um, nope. They look the same to me.

    The delimited file has fields surrounded by the delimiter: The separated file only has the separator between the fields. Result: Two more characters, one at each end.

  • Yes, it is a monopoly, because by law, the USPS is the only organization which can deliver "first class mail"... meaning most letters, bills, bank statements, etc. Package delivery and overnight delivery are not covered under this law, hence UPS, FedEx, and the others. But notice that UPS or FedEx don't ever handle standard mail?
  • Actually for colon delimited (or any delimited) the column entries all are enclosed by the delimiters. in the first case its not so, while in the second it is - subtle but important.
  • it has a .com instead of a .gov

    Actually the USPS website is available at both http://www.usps.com [usps.com] and http://www.usps.gov [usps.gov], probably to end the possible confusion caused by differing sites like http://www.whitehouse.com [whitehouse.com] and http://www.whitehouse.gov [whitehouse.gov]
  • I went through this a while back myself--I need a database of zip codes with their associated longitudes and lattitudes. (You can use this for proximity searching -- i.e., find the nearest store locations to my zip code) I found a free database from the census bureau, but it was based on 1990 data. Many zip codes in my customer's area had changed since then, so it was pretty much useless. As others have noted, you can subscribe to many services that will send you these files on a monthly, quarterly or yearly basis. (Zip codes DO change!)

    Micro$oft(R) Windoze NT(TM)
    (C) Copyright 1985-1996 Micro$oft Corp.
    C:\>uptime

  • by Artagel (114272) on Monday December 20, 1999 @04:31AM (#1460602) Homepage

    If the United States Government is the author, there is not copyright in it. The idea is that the Congressional record, judicial opinions, regulations issued by regulatory agencies, etc, etc are not copyrighted and anyone can copy them as much as they like.

    The Supreme Court rejected telephone white pages as being copyrightable because the white pages do not have the "originality" that is required to make something a work of authorship. No matter how hard you worked to collect data, databases are not protected unless they have originality, usually expressed as "selection or arrangement." I can't believe that an address to zip code database qualifies, but YMMV.

    There have been bills floating around for some years to address database protection, and the Europeans have already addressed that with their Database Directive. The idea is to protect databases from substantial copying for 15 years. I think that the small, but vigorous opposition is going to get steamrolled, but may succeed in getting a "fair use" exception put in. I haven't looked at this issue in a couple of years, so something may have even passed already.

    In short, databases aren't always protected by copyright, so slap a license on them! A contract is still a contract...

  • by Pope (17780) on Monday December 20, 1999 @04:49AM (#1460607)
    There ya go.
    Besides, you US people shouldn't bitch about the Post Office for any reason: when was the last time they went on strike for weeks on end and nobody got any mail?

    Exactly.

    Unlike Canada, where I live, where the Post Office strikes every couple of years, the rates go up, and service gets worse. Oy.
    I lived in the States for 7 years and was always amazed at the service, esp. SATURDAY delivery. Ah, I miss it. At least in my new neighbourhood I get the mail before 10:30 am.

    Pope
  • Actually, you are wrong, the USPS is only a quasi-governmental agency. Legally they are allowed and encouraged to make a profit. Its just that the profit goes to their 'owner', the for-loss US gov't.

  • I think the proof that ZIP codes are public is that they're created by a government agency. The government represents the people, and anything they do (with the exceptions of national secrets) are public information. ZIP codes are not national secrets, last time I checked at least. However, convincing the government to "repackage" the database in a downloadable format may be denied on the basis of how much it would cost them to do (millions of dollars of course ;-) and how much money they're making "for" the public (the government) by doing it this way. You people do of course realise that there isn't some dichotomy between the government and the public, right? You -own- the government by virtue of being a voter. Please, feel free to tell them how you feel, politely.
  • It's my understanding that the USPS is maintained as an independent corporation owned and operated by the US Government. I believe it was separated out to make sure that it didn't suffer from budgetary restrictions and the like and to make sure that stamp prices weren't influenced by budgetary discussions in Congress (the USPS should only raise stamp prices when it needs to increase it's own revenues, not the government's). Don't quote me on this. I'm trying to remember my Civics & Government classes from high school.

    Yes, the USPS has a monopoly on postal mail by law, but they certainly have their share of competition. UPS and FedEx both now deliver letter-style 'packages' in addition to their regular box formats, which is a pretty sizable chunk of revenue. These companies still can't deliver to a post office, but street address deliveries are perfectly legal.

    These companies (BTW, and to bring this slightly back on topic) pay for access to things like these databases. I'm sure the price-structure management of the database probably has as much to do with at least getting something back from the competition as it does with covering the cost of maintaining it.
  • by InThane (2300)
    Thanks, Bruce. This is pretty damn amazing, especially posting it to /. - I figure that your ftp site is going to be SWAMPED for the next few days.

    Folks, this is the real solution to the problem - instead of whining about somebody not having some piece of information availible, find a way to make it availible, then let everybody know where to get it.
  • 2. Someone at the first post office in the path looks up (if they don't know it already) & adds the ZIP.
    The Swedish postal service is rumoured to have (or maybe they had in the past) a kind of detective agency of its own to decipher the most unintelligible addresses. Locating a named person at "the yellow terrace houses" (rather than a specific street address) in a small town of 9,000 is no big deal, if you consider that postal workers probably know how to use a phone directory.

    However, I was quite amazed when some students on vacation wrote an e-mail address on a postcard and had it correctly delivered to our university department! This was around 1992, when "Internet" and "e-mail" weren't yet household words...

  • The whole point of government is to serve the people.
    I agree inprinciple, but i disagree with your particular point. Government should serve "the people" (ie EVERYBODY - the whole group - not individuals) what they cannot provide for themselves (an army, the EPA, ambassadors, etc.) "The people" cannot generate a list of all zip codes, since only the Post Office has the information. It is reasonable to expect the government to provide us with a list of zip codes. On the other hand, given a list of zip codes, "the people" are quite capable of alphabetizing and sorting them on their own.

    I would agree that if the government created a new computer system to maintain ZIP codes for governmental use, that system should either be a for the post office, then the information generated by the system should be available electronically. The marginal costs for doing this would be much lower than providing the same information on dead trees. The people who want to ftp it should get it for nearly nothing. the people who want the dead trees should pay for the printout.

    I think the Government Printing Office should shrink, and some BIG ftp servers should take over some of its functions.
  • In some sense, we actually do pay for the house numbers when we pay property tax. Someone else is not allowed to come along and build a house on the same street and put my house number on it.

    I think that there is a very different attitude in the US in general about what a government should do for the population, and how that government should run. There is, in my opinion, a prevailing attitude in the United States that the government should not run in the red, and in fact should resemble a business where practical.

    For example, the USPS does make a profit, and has spent a huge amount of time and money making itself into a more efficient organization. Considering the problems I've had with UPS recently, I have to say that the USPS is a real bargain for the most part.

    As a taxpayer, I want my tax dollars used well. I do want a system, like ZIP codes, that allows me to pay less to have my mail delivered. I don't want to pay for the convenience of someone else needing an entire copy of the ZIP code database when I receive no benefit from that company or person's usage. The information is freely available, but the means of delivery (as others have pointed out) costs money. Do you really want to subsidize junk mail any more than we already do? I have no problem with the USPS recouping some of its costs directly from the person or company receiving the benefit from the product.

    More generally, I have no problem with any government agency charging a reasonable fee to cover the costs of processing something that directly benefits me and only me.

    Matt
  • GoRK wrote:
    Sure the zip code information is politically free but what about the people who sit around all day assigning zones and keeping the central database updated? What about the people that typeset that enormous tome chained to the post office counter? That's going to cost you money! This is a no brainer. The post office is in the right!


    Actually, it's not quite the same as what Red Hat and other distros do. Rather, it might be what they *do* but differently funded.

    Because it is an enforced monopoly, any work done by the USPS belongs to the taxpayers who funded it. True, it's not funded out of the general funds, but the end result for anyone who sends 1st class mail in the US is that you pay a tax because you're forced to subsidize the USPS' competition with FedEx, Avery, etc. In 1997 (according to a newspaper column I read, so the figure is somewhere between 'straight out of my butt' and 'the revealed knowlege of an omniscient God'), they cleared 50 million in profit on 1st class mail.

    So I don't buy the argument that a subsidized government agency is *not* obligated to share the data it collects unless there is a good reason. So revealing *personal* information is not good, but geographic I think ought to be revealed unless there is compelling reason why not.

    Otherwise, the USPS reveals its nature as (and as I think it really is!) a mercantilist rather than capitalist institution.

    timothy
  • That said, the only people who have a use for a large database of zipcodes are mass marketers

    That is a blatently wrong statment.

    I worked for a digital mapping company. Our clients were primarily Utility companies. We used the USPS's CODE-1 software (which we had to purchase from them) in order to populate each address that fell under the utilities area with a correct Zip+4 value. The CODE-1 software/database contained the zip code and zip+4 of every home in the US. The company (which has projects in over 40 US states) used this databse for actual work.

    The utility company (in this case a Natural Gas company) was then employing the program we built (a GIS system) to 1) give to their customer service reps for isolating and tracking problems and 2) to the field repair and install teams for accurate pipe placement and tracking.

    No one was sending junk mail to anyone.



  • I worked for a digital mapping company. Our clients were primarily Utility companies. We used the USPS's CODE-1 software (which we had to purchase from them) in order to populate each address that fell under the utilities area with a correct Zip+4 value. The CODE-1 software/database contained the zip code and zip+4 of every home in the US. The company (which has projects in over 40 US states) used this databse for actual work.

    The utility company (in this case a Natural Gas company) was then employing the program we built (a GIS system) to 1) give to their customer service reps for isolating and tracking problems and 2) to the field repair and install teams for accurate pipe placement and tracking.

  • To deliberately change the order of what trims wrote ;) --

    "Honestly, people, we're getting really lazy these days," and "You can get the information from any Post Office you ask, but I'm sure it's not going to be in a nice electronic format. After all, you're getting it for free."


    Well, ought not the government and quasi-government bodies you subsidize have their information in "nice electronic form," so we don't have to subsidize them more than we already do? (That is, by saving the work of mangling messy, difficult-to-understand data as collected into forms easily used by the folks at the Post Office ...)

    And laziness is an important human virtue -- at least if it is phrased as "the urge to avoid unnecessary work" rather than as "laziness." ;)

    It seems like the avoid-unnecessary-toil part of "laziness" ought to be integrated into the system, rather than only being the *delay* form of laziness. The people who would like to be able to read public information electronically / easily to me seem like the ones more in the right than the post office refusing to make their processes straightforwardly understandable.

    timothy
  • Actually, it isn't supposed to make a profit. It's merely supposed to be self-supporting. This is pretty much the way Amtrak, tollway authorities, some bridges and tunnels, and so forth are run.

    It can't make a *profit* since there are no *owners* except the public. It can have a revenue surplus.

    Before 1971, it was a terrible sinkhole for money. Now, it's supposed to manage its market for equalizing revenues and expenses, solely on the basis of what it charges. No taxpayer money.

    The Federal protection is based on the idea that a) first-class mail delivery is a federal responsibility (not only by law, but in principle: to serve all citizens equally); b) a competitive environment would not allow it to cover its expenses; therefore c) no private first-class mail, or you're interfering with a) by defunding the agency. The exceptions won for FedEx and UPS were carved out over a long period of time, and the justification is that these are premium services that it would be unreasonable to expect the USPS to provide. UPS, for example, at one time had to operate under strict freight standards and a fiction that private packages were business freight. Later, though, the USPS were allowed to compete in this market (they begged) with Express Mail.
    ----
  • Well, ought not the government and quasi-government bodies you subsidize have their information in "nice electronic form," so we don't have to subsidize them more than we already do?

    One way or another, someone is going to pay for it.

    If you have to pay a fee to get it in a convenient format, it is pretty obvious how you pay for it. If you get it in that convenient format for "free", your taxes will pay for it.

    The difference is that in the latter, my taxes are also paying for it, and I might not be interested in subsidizing your use of the database.
  • A collection of facts in itself isn't protectable in the US. There has to be a degree of creativity or origality in the collection. Alphabetized or numerically sorted isn't "original", it's just a sorted list of public information. I believe there were one or more cases a while back regarding a publishing company, the telephone company and telephone books. The telephone books were not deemed copyrightable because they were just a simple, if alphabetized, collection of unoriginal data. Not copyrightable.
  • I'd have to say that in Either case, this is wrong.
    Let's look at both cases.
    1) Zip codes & associated cities/neighborhoods ARE public information.
    - This information should be freely available to the public, not sold at high price to others to sell commercially. Citizens should demand this.
    2) They are *NOT* public information, but internal to the post office.
    - Well, it could be argued that the ZIP code is only the post office's way of internally routing packages, so it's really up to them what they do with it. If this is the case, they are free to sell it as they wish.
    - If you view the USPS as part of a 'public trust', and that this information is private and for internal use only, it should not be sold OR given out.

  • Your arguments in favor of the USPS are sound and logical. However, you fail to mention why, if they are making a profit and are efficient, they need to be a government agency and mandated monopoly?
  • No, I am not kidding. I find that UPS frequently is cheaper than USPS for packages. I don't see why they couldn't be able to do the same for first class mail as well.

    USPS is not losing money. They may not be making much either, but take away the bureaucratic layer and they could be quite lucrative as a company. Hell, keep them on as a government agency, just don't deny other companies from entering the mail business. It is utter hypocrisy for the US government to bring Microsoft to court on monopoly charges only to turn around and forbid UPS and FedEx to compete against it's own ventures.
  • by adamsc (985)
    Yeah, but the point is as long as you're using the data to make money, which is what your company and you indirectly are doing, you should pay a fee. And, you should be willing to pay a fee.
    Huh? I never claimed otherwise - I was just trying to point out that there are reasons for buying such data other than sending out bushels of junk mail. I quite agree - if I'm using it, I pay the fee. If $900 is a show-stopping expense, your project is too underfunded to work anyway...
  • But understand that I do not agree with the USPS charging for it's database. As far as I am concerned, their mail monopoly should be revoked and they should compete with UPS, FedEx, et al, for the delivery of first class and bulk mail.
    USPS gets its first class monopoly in return for a guarantee of universal one-price service. There are important governmental and legal reasons for such a service..."I'm sorry but our company doesn't deliver packages or documents from any third party. Have a nice time getting your election flyers out."

    And I think certified mail has special legal standing. Someone in another thread recommended contacting your congresscritter via certified mail, because the USPS is obligated to deliver it directly to the addressee, not to a flunky.

    There's good reason that the power to create a postal service is explictly granted to Congess in the U.S. Constitution.

    And I'd rather deal with USPS than UPS any day - USPS has not broken any of my packages, while UPS has busted two, and UPS has even worse customer service than USPS. USPS priority mail is a pretty good deal, IMHO. FedEx is ok, I've had no problems with them. (Other than that they're contributing to the ugly trend of advertizing by buying the name of a sports stadium..."FedEx Field?" Ugh. Besides, wouldn't that make fans of rival teams less likely to use your services?)

  • Actually, according to their web site, they started the transition in the late 60's-early 70's. My point, however, was not that the USPS has been taking tax money, but that they would be taking tax money if the postal restructuring act hadn't taken place.
  • It's true that for any given chunk of work, someone is going to pay for it.

    However, given that the post office spends / will spend a bunch of time and money gathering information on our/your tab, is it fair that you're not allowed to see the fruit?

    Sort of like if town funds were used to purchase and house some fine outdoor sculpture inside an old Quonset hut that belonged to a minicipality whose taxes were used to fund the purchase. For sensible completion of transaction those tax dollars were already used to begin, the town should open up the quonset hut so that the people who paid for it can benefit from the use of their money.

    It wouldn't make sense for a town to build *most* of a bridge, would it?

    And as far as TANSTAAFL, well, I'm all for the Post Office drying up and blowing away, or at least being opened to full and fair competition, but the government seems to enjoy maintaining a monopoly on first-class mail just fine, thanks very much. We could buy an awful lot of Bistro Meals by eliminating the coercive USPS altogether. The Constitution only says that the Feds are to *establish* post offices, right?

    timothy

  • You can...or could here in the US.

    My Grandmother has the book of the 5 digit Zip codes for the entire US.

    It's only for cities/towns though...no street addys.

    The US is a wee big bigger than Hungary
  • I used to live on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

    Back there, there are only PO Boxes. Try to order any thing UPS or FedEx with a PO Box Number. They won't do it. It's gotten even worse in the last 15 years since things went computerized at catalog retailers. Now the UPS man has to drive in from Mobridge SD...90 miles away and he knows how to get to my house.

    So you have to give the people on the phone directions to your house, and even this takes some doing, because they will only deliver to street addresses.

    Of course once it makes it to UPS in Mobridge, the UPs dude knows exactly where to take it.

    Now the USPS...you never have a problem with them.
  • This file is the same as the one hosted on the U.S. Census Beureau's Tiger Mapping Service [census.gov] website.
    Here [census.gov] is how they describe the information:

    As part of the Tiger Mapping Service, we provide a 1990 Census gazetteer of counties, places and zipcodes in the United States, so you can find a place by name without having to know the LAT/LON coordinates. This is done using a simple text database condensed from Census data files. We are making this file available to the public. Note: The vintage of the geography in these files (Places, MCDs etc.) is 1990 to match the 1990 Census data available from the Census Bureau.

    Some thing else that is interesting is a perl script [indo.com] that calculates the distance between two locations given the long/lat in the form of the previous db's with a relatively low margin of error, on the order of a couple tenth's of a percent. For more information, the website can be reached here [indo.com].

    This stuff is pretty interesting and I think I might even have a use for it. Please post any more insights.

  • However, given that the post office spends / will spend a bunch of time and money gathering information on our/your tab, is it fair that you're not allowed to see the fruit?

    Ah, but you are allowed to see the fruit. ZIP and ZIP+4 codes are readily available to anyone via a variety of methods, most of them free. It is only if you want the entire database on a set of CDs that you pay an additional charge. Makes sense. This isn't information the USPS has "gathered", remember. It is closer to operational procedures. Charging an extra fee for them to go out of their way to package it all together for secondary consumption seems reasonable.

    Now, maybe the fee they are charging is higher then is reasonable, but I don't know one way or the other. Do you?

    I'm all for the Post Office drying up and blowing away...

    I sure hope it doesn't! It costs me 35 cents to mail a letter anywhere in the continental US. If I were to use FedEx or UPS instead, I can expect over ten dollars in charges and fees. Now, I suppose some of my tax dollars still go to the USPS, but how many of them?
  • IIRC, nothing has passed yet.
    Back at the end of July, RMS wrote up some details [linuxtoday.com] about the pending legislation (a good read on the matter).

    If I'm wrong, then something on this page [eff.org] at eff.org will probably make it plain.

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