Inside the Beltway : December 2009
ABM's IPC Focused on Protecting Innovation for the B-to-B Industry
ABM’s new strategic plan emphasizes the Association’s leadership role in influencing government policy on b-to-b industry issues, and last week ABM’s Information Policy Committee gathered in Washington for its latest meeting to discuss a wide range of issues and strategize for the coming year.
While postal remains a critical pocketbook issue for ABM members, much of ABM’s focus in Washington is shifting toward new digital issues, such as behavioral targeting and net neutrality, which are affecting ABM members as the b-to-b industry undergoes dramatic transformation. The impact of many of the emerging digital issues may not yet be clear; however, the IPC is focused on advocating for policies in Washington that protect ABM members against limitations on the growth of their businesses and ensure continued growth and innovation for the b-to-b industry.
In order to stay at the forefront of the issues affecting the constantly changing b-to-b industry, ABM has established an early warning system as part of its new strategic plan in order to become involved in issues that could have a potential impact on ABM members as they arise in Washington. The IPC, along with ABM’s Washington counsel and lobbyists, raised several issues at last week’s meeting that ABM will be addressing in the coming year, including: open access, data breach, liability implications of user-generated content, database protection (or “hot news”), and (although not technically an IPC issue) possible relaxation of content restrictions for periodicals by the Postal Service.
In addition, adhering to its new strategic plan, ABM has developed the “Government Policy Brief,” a one-page document, that will be sent to the membership on a quarterly basis. The brief succinctly outlines the key pocketbook issues that ABM is working on in Washington and highlights their importance and relevance to the membership. Click here to download the first brief, which covers postal, behavioral targeting, shield law, net neutrality and fax issues.
Shield Law Bill Likely to Pass in the Senate Early Next Year
After months of stalling and setbacks, the reporter shield bill finally cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month on a 14-5 vote, and now moves to the Senate floor. While The Free Flow of Information Act (S.448) will likely not become law before the end of the year, the bill is moving forward and is expected to pass in the Senate early next year.
ABM has been actively advocating for a federal shield law for several years, and the imminent passage of the bill marks a long-awaited victory for the Association. The federal law would protect news reporters, including those of ABM members, from compelled testimony and disclosure of their source material.
The Senate bill contains exceptions that make the shield law inapplicable in certain matters of national security and terrorist activities, and strongly protects reporters and their sources, while also ensuring that the government can do its job of protecting its citizens.
The legislation also modifies the definition of a journalist to expand the class of individuals who are protected under the shield law. Any individual with the intention of disseminating news to the public is now covered under the bill, whereas previous drafts protected only those employed or freelancing with a news organization.
USPS Mail Volumes Continue to Decline as Year Ends
ABM, Postal Coalition working for long-term relief
The Postal Service’s financial report for the first month of this fiscal year, October, continues to look dismal. The Postal Service suffered a net loss of $221 million in the month, compared with net income for the same month last year of $309 million. This decline was the direct result of a 17% drop in mail volume, offset only in part by a 10% reduction in work hours that produced a 3.5% reduction in operating expenses. For the month, First-Class volume declined 11.5%, Standard mail volume declined 22% and Periodicals volume declined 14.5% (all versus October 2008). Of these three classes, only Periodicals experienced a percentage revenue decline greater than the volume decline, which no doubt results from lower-weights that produced revenue reductions on a per-piece basis.
The Postal Service's budget plan for this fiscal year is also depressing. It forecasts a 7.4% reduction in work hours, producing a saving of $3.8 billion, but continuing declines in mail volume averaging 6.2% (Periodicals are pegged at 5.9%) are projected to produce a $7.8 billion deficit for the fiscal year. If results mirror this plan, the Postal Service will not have enough cash at year-end to meet its obligations (including the $5.5 billion payment into the retiree health care trust fund scheduled for this year).
An expected recovery in the economy in the second quarter of fiscal year 2010 is factored into the forecasts, but mail volume tends to lag such improvement, and changes in the mail mix only add to the Postal Service's woes. First-Class mail volume is forecast to decline by 7.9%, compared with a Standard mail decline of only 4.6%. However, because First-Class mail is the most profitable (in terms of contribution to institutional costs), it takes three pieces of Standard mail to replace each piece of First-Class mail.
ABM, along with the coalition of mailers and mail groups it belongs to, is working tirelessly on the Hill in an effort to obtain long-term financial relief for the Postal Service. While it’s not yet clear what the relief will be, ABM’s lobbyists and Washington counsel are actively involved and will continue to protect ABM members’ interests in the postal arena.
'Droop Test' Implementation Delayed Until June
Most ABM members are already familiar with the Postal Service’s new rules for automation flats and the maximum amount of “droop” they may experience while maintaining qualification for automation rates. These rules, which were scheduled to be implemented on January 4, have now been postponed until June 7.
Click here for the official notice from the Federal Register regarding the delay in the implementation date and the rates that will be imposed on pieces that fail the test.
For those ABM members who mail flat-shaped pieces, failing to meet the new droop rules will mean a loss of the automation discount and a higher postal bill by as much as 40%. If you are concerned that your publication might fail the droop test, and what might be done to avoid that result, contact David Straus at email@example.com for more information on the specifics that would put your publication at risk.
ABM Behavioral Targeting Webinar Now Available On-Demand
The latest webinar in ABM’s series, “Behavioral Targeting for Publishers,” featuring Chris Hulse of Inflection Point Media, is now available on-demand on the ABM Video Network. Click here to watch now. You can also follow along with Hulse’s presentation deck, available here.
Hulse explores the world of data-driven advertising and its importance for publishers during the webinar.
ABM has been active in Washington over the past several years in advocating for industry self-regulation on behavioral advertising and has recently met with Representatives on the Hill to ensure the b-to-b perspective on the issue is heard as an online privacy bill is being drafted. A draft bill, which so far appears to support ABM member interests, is expected to be released in the House early next year.
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