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MSN puts Net access, phone charges on one bill

Microsoft strikes a deal with online payment company eCharge, under which MSN Internet access charges will be combined directly with MSN users' phone bills.

Microsoft said this morning that it has struck a deal with online payment company eCharge, under which MSN Internet access charges will be combined directly with MSN users' phone bills.

The trend toward combining Net access with phone charges--the so-called one-stop communications shop--is becoming more common. Today's previously reported announcement also comes as MSN is pondering low- or no-cost Internet access. MSN faces intense competition in the Internet service provider business from America Online as well as many independent ISPs.

"By clicking on eCharge during the installation process, subscribers to MSN Internet Access can have their Internet service charges billed directly to their home phone bill, giving them more flexibility by providing an alternate billing option," Microsoft said in a statement.

"This is another way for consumers to pay the recurring ISP bill," and it also lowers handling costs for the ISP, eCharge chief executive Ron Erickson told CNET News.com. The MSN monthly access charge is combined with the user's local phone bill, Erickson added.

The deal also calls for Microsoft to market privately held eCharge's services on MSN through advertising, direct mail, and email.

The companies are hoping that the marketing effort will provide an alternative payment system to those consumers who are concerned about the privacy and security of using their credit card numbers online.

"We want to make it as easy as possible for people to get on the Web," said Rob Bennett, director of marketing for the Consumer and Commerce Group at Microsoft, in a statement.

eCharge has partnered with many other phone companies, including AT&T in the United States, an executive said.