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Monday, November 16, 1998 Published at 01:06 GMT


Sci/Tech

New online payment option launched

eCharge becomes the Internet Service Provider while you buy

By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall
Internet users wary of making credit card purchases over the World Wide Web are being given the option of charging services to their phone bills.


Mark Heraghty of Cable & Wireless on the scheme
A new scheme launched by Cable & Wireless Communications and the American company eCharge on Monday allows users to pay for goods and services through premium-rate phone calls.

Consumers fear fraud

A survey carried out on behalf of the consumer organisation Which? last week suggested that one in three people believes it is easy for anyone to get hold of personal details such as credit card information once they are submitted over the Internet.

Encryption software makes the Net more secure than other ways of using credit cards, but consumer fears are hard to dispel.

The new service gets round this and would initially help Websites carry out small transactions such as charging for reading newspaper articles or downloading music tracks.

How it works

When a visitor with a dial-up Internet connection is on a site using eCharge, they can make a purchase by simply clicking on an icon.

This disconnects the existing call to the Internet Service Provider and immediately dials the eCharge servers on a premium-rate number.

There may be visual warnings of the length or cost of the call for the duration of the purchase before the line is dropped again and the original ISP number redialled.

The eCharge software will mute the modem speaker so the process of hanging up and reconnecting seems seamless, but C&W admit there will be a lag time while this takes place.

Bigger purchases possible

The charges will show up on the quarterly phone bill and eventually, the method can be used to pay for more substantial items such as CDs and books, effectively giving the buyer up to three month's interest-free credit.

But this would depend on the regulator - the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services (ICSSTIS).

C&W says it has the widest range of premium-rate tariffs, ranging from 25p a minute to £1.50 a minute. But new rates to pay for single items over a £1 have to get the approval of the regulator.

Experienced users may resist temptation

eCharge taking over as ISP for a transaction may annoy services such as AOL and Compuserve who can make money from the time a user is online with them. But C&W says the service is aimed more at ISPs who do not charge by the minute or hour and could actually be used by those ISPs wishing to charge for access to any value-added services.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to the take up of the service is the ingrained expectations of Net users that services should be provided for free or can be found without charge elsewhere.

The eCharge service will be on trial in November and December ahead of a full launch in the New Year.

C&W says it is creating a new market in bringing together the ISP and premium rate industry. The latter is currently worth around £200m a year.



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