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TransPoint launches billing service

With testing complete, the joint venture of Microsoft, First Data, and Citibank will start with five online bill-issuers.

After years of expectation, TransPoint, a joint venture of Microsoft, First Data, and Citibank, has launched its online billing service for consumers.

Consumers who have accounts with five bill issuers, including New York utility Con Ed, PECO Energy of Philadelphia, and the Orange County Register, a newspaper based in Southern California, can now access their accounts at Transpoint's Web site. Con Ed and PECO Energy have nearly 5 million customers between them.

TransPoint completed testing of its Internet bill delivery and payment service, which it calls "e-bills," on April 30 and is staffing its customer service area around the clock, according to the company's Web site. The company intends to launch the service on bank and other busy Internet sites this summer.

The venture is hoping to generate revenues as an outsourcing service to both banks and billers, although it has said it would offer the service to consumers from its Web site for consumers whose bank didn't offer the service. Web portals including Yahoo, which has an unannounced online billing deal with CheckFree, have expressed interest in offering the service to give consumers a reason to return regularly to their sites.

The venture's main rival, CheckFree, operates a competing network of billers and banks and implemented its service more quickly than TransPoint. CheckFree claims that 21 bill issuers now use its service to present bills and accept payments online; 28 more have signed multi-year contracts but haven't launched yet.

CheckFree also has distribution agreements with 20 financial institutions, including First Union, Bank One, Prudential, Charles Schwab, and the Navy Federal Credit Union. CheckFree declined to say how many consumers are using the service.

Last week, Checkfree suffered intermittent problems with its online (but not Web-based) bill paying service over several days, a situation that TransPoint could capitalize on. But industry analysts say CheckFree's problems aren't likely to have a lasting effect because banks don't have many options for outsourcing such services.

Some consumers who use TransPoint's e-bill service will be able to order products directly from the "e-bill" if their merchant offers its own credit cards, according to TransPoint's Web site. The site will also contain links to online catalogs.

TransPoint also announced seven regional banks that have signed up for pilot testing of its service.

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