Death of USPS Surface Mail ( & the M-Bag )?
If you are not sure what an M-Bag is (or what it was), it is defined by the USPS. It has, at least in its previous life, been a topic of conversation on Nicaliving, and can be found here, here, and here, too - and probably elsewhere on this site.
Note: The term "M-Bag" is not the most-used identifier for the bag or the service; it is now, at least in USPS notices and rate-guides, usually referred to as "Direct Sack To One Address", USPS IMM-260 - though what people used to mean by "M-Bag" might now be known as the deceased "Economy M-Bag". It is confusing and the true merits of the service appear now to have been lost.
The original USPS proposal prior to the last rate-hikes and changes was to eliminate all surface mail delivery, which would have, by definition, also put an end to the M-Bag in any way, shape, or form. While all basic surface mail (a.k.a. "boat rate" delivery) was eliminated on May 14th, 2007, the M-bag may or may not have been saved, even if temporarily (though with a massive price increase; see the end of this post for details). I say "may or may not" because evidence on the web and at the post is not always one and the same.
The full USPS IMM (International Mail Manual) can be found here, and the "M-Bag" is entry 260, indicated above. Country-specific data can be found on this entry for Nicaragua. As you can see, the M-Bag is still listed (way down near the bottom, under the new rates for postcards).
It is hard to believe they would continue surface mail systems only for materials for the blind and M-bags (economy or otherwise) - neither of which seems to justify the associated expenses. Compare / contrast this with the many announcements on the web (many formed in August, 2007, long after the alleged change), bemoaning the death of the latter. Many of these complaints are accompanied by a plea for a return of the original service.
Here is an online petition, updated as recently as August 21st, 2007. This is being used to try to bring back the original, cheap M-Bag. This same general petition can be found around the web, and is of course sponsored by bookstores. It is not just for-profit places lining up the petitions. The U.S. Peace Corps has been a strong critic of the proposed or actual changes; the Peace Corps online site, even includes detailed instructions on how to voice your complaint on the changes, and there is no shortage of in-country complaints and notice of these on official publications The irritation at the changes can be found on the web rather easily, in articles dating near the change-day of mid-May, to complaints from everyone from scholars to record-album collectors - all of whom bemoan the loss of subsidized rates for research and educational (which includes entertainment) materials.
I mention much of this because earlier this summer I sent an M-Bag from South Dakota to Honduras. It arrived last month, without incident (as it always has in the past). I thought perhaps my bag was grandfathered in, and that the service was now dead (as the various web complaints state or imply), since I sent the bag after the change, though at the time I had no idea there was a change and paid the old cheap fees. The other day I shipped a non-M-Bag package to Nicaragua (2lb, 10oz, for $21 - indicating another rate hike in 2007), and I inquired as to the current status of the M-Bag. I was told "no problem", and was shown the bag and forms. I was told it is the only remaining surface mail option under the new USPS system. The kicker, though, were the fees.
I cannot date all previous M-Bag shipments, since once packages arrive safely I normally discard the related paperwork. However, I never remember paying more than $1.50-2.00 for each pound above 10lb minimum. The current stated rate in the IMM and the cliff-notes version I was shown recently, was a whopping $3.95 per pound (just $0.80 less than for-profit Miami=Tegucigalpa drop-shippers charge me). See this link to the online IMM, which confirms the current $4 per pound price, on top of the hefty $44 fee for the first 1-11 pounds. Additionally, recent FAQ files, include M-Bag mentions, and there isn't any good news there, either. I am not sure what will become of the service or the fees, but it is hard to see the justification for keeping a discount bulk service that isn't actually offered at a discount.
So, if you used this service in the past, or would like to do so in the future (at a more reasonable price), or think it should exist for charitable or educational purposes, you might consider the online petition linked above. The recent changes have completely undermined the intended benefit of the discounted M-Bag, namely the delivery of books and media.