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MSN has billing headaches

Microsoft Network is giving a repeat performance of last year's problems, back-billing users for several months at a time.

Microsoft may be able to take you where you want to go today, but it may take a while to bill you for the trip.

Members of Microsoft Network are facing the online service's second major billing problem in a year. And this one looks a lot like a widely publicized problem last September.

MSN is informing its members that the largest software company in the world has had trouble billing members on time. Some are getting back-billed for several months, which does not sit well with many members who are getting big credit card bills.

According to an email sent to members today, MSN has been having problems "due to the strong demand for our MSN Internet online service." It does not get more specific than that, but a spokesman said MSN had recently updated its billing system.

That should take care of the problem, he said. But MSN gave similar reasons for a billing backlog last year, when it sent out back bills for months of service at one time.

The news of the billing problem comes as MSN is in an intensified race to compete with America Online (AOL) and CompuServe (CSRV), which are planning to merge pending government approval. Although AOL has had its share of problems, billing its customers on time has never been one of them.