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MSN to combine Net access, phone bill

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

Microsoft tomorrow will announce 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. Tomorrow's 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 tonight. 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.

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