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Utility bills to be paid online

CheckFree signs up New England's largest electric utility system to use its E-Bill service, which lets customers view and pay utility bills on their bank's Web site.

CheckFree (CKFR) has signed up New England's largest electric utility system to use its E-Bill service, which lets customers view and pay utility bills on their bank's Web site.

The agreement with Northeast Utilities (NU), a utility holding company, underscores increasing activity in the "bill presentment" market, where CyberCash (CYBC) and MSFDC, a Microsoft joint venture with payment processor First Data, are competing. Visa has indicated interest in bill presentment but has made no announcements, and payment processor National Processing Company said last week it's testing a bill presentment service

While paying bills online is not new, bill presentment--letting consumers receive bills electronically--is a new market.

"We think consumers want to go to a single site to get all their bills," said Matt Lewis, CheckFree's vice president of corporate strategy and communications. Other players also focus on using banks as the consumer's point of contact, although MSFDC has spoken of having its own site for customers whose banks do not offer bill presentment.

The CheckFree announcement means 1.2 million customers of Connecticut Light and Power Company and Western Massachusetts Electric can use E-Bill service to receive full-color electronic bills, complete with graphics, logos, and full billing detail, on their personal computers. The ability for billers to communicate directly with their customers is considered key in the bill presentment arena.

CheckFree customers using E-Bill include 15 of the nation's larger billers and the nation's largest statement processor. Participants come from the utilities industry, insurance, mortgages, and the Small Business Administration.