Telecommunications talk; a new face for Western Union. Brian J. Murphy.
The telegraph company ain't what it used to be.
Western Union, which long ago phased out the uniformed delivery boy on the bicycle, is now entering the business and personal computer arena in a big way with its own computer telecommunications system called EasyLink.
EasyLink places virtually all of Western Union's worldwide communications net at your disposal. With EasyLink you can receive or send messages to or from any Telex terminal. You can use it to send Mailgrams, E-COM mail, Cablegrams, and telegrams. You can send mesages on a priority basis and request notification of message delivery. You can also use the system to send a mailing to up to 250 addresses, one of several mass mailing schemes that allows you to hit a broad or selected set of addresses.
EasyLink also includes a service they call F.Y.I. which offers news, sports, weather and human interest features much as you would find on the information utilities. Here we shall concentrate on EasyLink's powerful message system.
When you subscribe to the service you get a set of codes for use in logging onto the system and an 800 number to use to access the network. You also get a mailbox number, and a Telex number. If you have questions Western Union provides an 800 number to call to reach a customer assistance representative.
The most valuable article they send you is the EasyLink user manual, which is without doubt one of the best I have ever seen. Written with the needs of the average user in mind, it explains all the procedures for using the system in precise, unambiguous prose. It will surely abbreviate the amount of time required to learn to use the service. The result of all this attention is the very strong impression that Western Union is going to care and be there if you have problems with the system and need a little hand holding and advice.
Once you have logged on and entered your various access codes, you see the prompt, PTS (which stands for Proceed To Select). It is here that you enter the correct "address" for the type of EasyLink service you want.
To send a Telex message you enter the telex number and the answerback number. For worldwide Telex you append a country code to the number. To send to an EasyLink mailbox, you simply key in the appropriate eight-digit number for the part you want to reach.
If you want to send a Mailgram, you enter the command /ZIP, then the address of the recipient. For a telegram you enter a /PMS command. /INT is the command for an international Cablegram, and for InfoCom you append the command /ICS.
Computer letters come in three flavors: Computer Letter Service (delivery in three days), E-COM (delivery in two business days or less), and Overseas Priority Letter (delivered in two business days). To send a computer letter you first key in the EasyLink address, 62900396. This must be done beore you use a slash command to access one of the three services. Once you get the GA (Go Ahead) prompt you can then enter the /CLS (computer letter service), /ECOM, or /OPL (overseas priority leter) command.
Having decided on the service, the next step is to enter the message. That is not a problem, as long as you adhere to these text and line width restrictions:
EasyLink and EasyLink Telex-- 50,000 characters total, no line width restriction.
All Telex--50,000 characters total, 68 characters per line.
Cablegram, Telegram, and Mailgram --15,000 characters total, 68 per line.
Computer Letter service--No more than 371 lines, 68 characters per line.
E-COM--Total 97 lines, 68 characters per line.
Overseas Priority Letter--363 lines total, 68 characters per line.
The line is ended simply with an ENTER or RETURN, depending on your terminal or computer. The end of the message is signaled by an LLLL at the start of a new line follwed by ENTER. IF you have made no mistakes in writing your message, the system responds with a MESSAGE ACCEPTED prompt. You may begin a new message right away.
Before I move on to pricing, a word about Telexing. This is one of the most exciting services WU offers. If you have ever seen the big, bulky, blue Telex machine, which performs only one function, you can readily appreciate the advantage of being able to dispense with it all together in favor of your personal computer work station. Add to this the ability to use your personal computer word processor in preparing your message (EasyLink will show you how) and the accessibility of so many other message services and you have a powerful argument in favor of the EasyLink service.
I was all set to tell you that this was an expensive service, but it isn't. In fact, Western Union claims that some of their own services are actually cheaper on EasyLink than they are by phoning Western Union to send a cable or a wire.
There is no subscription fee or start-up expense of any kind. They send all the materials, including the password codes and the loose-leaf manual, at no charge. Nor is there a minimum charge for the first three months of use. You will be billed for each message you send, however, according to the applicable rate structures. Starting with the fourth month there is a $25 monthly minimum use fee.
Here are some sample fees to give you an idea of the pricing of various services (all based on 300 baud transmission):
EasyLink to EasyLink--$.30 minute.
Telegram--$1.80 minute plus $3.00 service charge from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.M., $1.50 from 7:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.
Mailgram--First page, $3.00; subsequent pages $.75 each.
Telex 1 to any U.S. Telex terminal-- $.43 per minute. The service outputs at 400 characters per minute.
My conclusion is that EasyLink works, that it is affordable, and that it is great for business and professionals who use the mail frequently. If you can reduce some of your routine long distance calls to written form, you will save on phone expense too.
EasyLink info is available from Western Union, Department 38, 1651 Old Meadow Rd., McLean VA 22102 or by calling (800) 336-3797, ext. 38.