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W3C proposes Web payment standard

The World Wide Web Consortium and CommerceNet today announced a plan to unify all Web payment protocols.

Hoping to avert a collision of incompatible electronic payment systems, the World Wide Web Consortium and CommerceNet today announced a plan to unify all Web payment protocols.

The Joint Electronic Payments Initiative (JEPI) establishs a standard negotiating mechanism for linking payment solutions such as IBM's Internet Keyed Payment Protocols or the Secure Electronic Transactions (SET) protocol established by Visa International and MasterCard International to let online merchants conduct secure credit card transactions over the Internet.

JEPI calls for browser, server, and payment vendors to incorporate a JEPI protocol into their products. With the protocol, now in development, users and vendors will not need special software for every payment scheme, said Mack Hicks, vice president of interactive banking at Bank of America and one of the officials promoting JEPI.

"The consumer is going to find [JEPI] very convenient because they won't have to sign up for every payment scheme," Hicks said. "The nice thing for the browser people is they don't have to implement every protocol natively. There's probably going to be more protocols than you can imagine."

A number of key vendors and organizations are lending their support to JEPI, including CyberCash, Netscape Communications, Microsoft, OpenMarket, Open Software Foundation, IBM, VeriFone, and Citibank.

Late last year, Visa and Mastercard set aside concerns about competing credit card payment systems by joining forces on the SET specification. Key industry players, such as Microsoft and Netscape Communications, have thrown their weight behind the SET initiative, indicating that a single secure payment standard might become a reality.

But credit card protocols are just one type of payment emerging over the Internet, W3C and CommerceNet officials noted today. Consumers can also use electronic cash and debit cards, for example.

"For credit card transactions, we have SET, but we already have out there CyberCash and DigiCash," "We have debit card systems coming around. There are many more systems than credit card systems." CyberCash and DigiCash both sell electronic cash systems.

Neither Visa nor Mastercard have yet endorsed JEPI, an absention that could represent a stumbling block for fledgling initiative. Officials for the two credit card companies were not available for comment.

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