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Dead medium: the Prague Pneumatic Post
From: (Bruce Sterling)

Source(s): "Right Down the Tubes" by Mimi Fronczak Rogers

"Right Down the Tubes"

By Mimi Fronczak Rogers.

"About two dozen brass and black-steel tubes are lined up along one wall of a large, airy room. Indicator lights are mounted on the front of the tubes; at the end of each tube is a receptacle made of dark polished wood. Also below each tube is a separate hatch neatly labeled with an engraved and painted brass plaque.

"A red indicator light on one of the tubes turns on. A low-level hum gradually builds over several minutes to a high-pitched whir. It all ends with a dull plunk as a metal cylinder drops from the tube and into the basket. An operator retrieves the canister, reads the label that denotes its intended destination, then deposits it into one of the lower hatches.

"A green indicator light comes on, signifying that the canister is on its way to its final destination.

"For about 25 businesses in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, m-commerce (that's 'm' as in 'mechanical') is still the quickest, safest,and cheapest way to get things done. In a matter of minutes, an important document can make its way from point A to point B on the potrubni posti, Prague's underground pneumatic tube network, at a cost of about 11 U.S. cents per transmission.

"The network, comprised of some 60 kilometers of underground tubes, has been in operation since the 1920s, when it was considered the state of the art for high-speed document transfer. Other citywide pneumatic networks have long since been shut down or retooled for other purposes, but the Prague network continues to handle about 9,000 transmissions per month (in its heyday in the 1960s and '70s, the system carried more than a million messages per month)."


"The pneumatic network is owned and operated by SPT Telecom, the Czech national phone company. That ownership ultimately may prove to be the tube network's downfall: Telsource N.V., a Swiss-Dutch alliance that now owns about 27 percent of SPT Telecom, has said that all SPT operating divisions must turn a profit or face shutdown. Despite an increase in use in recent years, the potrubni posti now operates in the red."

"Copyright 1997 Last Modified: 23-Apr-97"

(((bruces remarks: The pneumatic post is a Necronaut's darling. Every time I distribute a post on this subject, it is met with replies protesting that pneumatic tubes are alive and well. Yes, they are, but this is something rarer: a pneumatic *medium,* a government- supported city-wide mail system, dating back to the days when tubes were not merely packet-shippers (as they are today) but state-of-the-art public communications networks. One might have known one would find a survivor in Prague, the City of Alchemists and home of many a living fossil. But now the potrubni posti is under cruel threat from mere commercial necessity, and who knows, it may already be dead.)))

Bruce Sterling (