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Accessing MSN via cell phone? It'll cost you

Microsoft is set to start charging a subscription fee for MSN Mobile, a service that lets customers check their MSN e-mail and other services through Web-enabled cell phones.

Microsoft will begin charging a yearly subscription fee for MSN Mobile, a service that lets customers check their MSN e-mail and other services through Web-enabled cell phones, the company confirmed.

Beginning Dec. 3, MSN Mobile users in the United States and Canada will be required to pay $19.99 a year to access MSN services via cell phone, with a jump in fees to $24.99 a year after Nov. 25. Services that will be affected by the subscription plan include cell phone access to Hotmail, instant messenger, calendar, alerts and other Web content.

The changes will not affect cell phone carriers Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless in the United States, and Bell Mobility and Rogers AT&T in Canada.

Microsoft detailed the changes on its Web site Monday.

The move underscores an effort by Microsoft to generate additional subscription revenue from its MSN family of Web services. Earlier this year, Microsoft stopped offering its MSN Calendar and MSN Photo services free on the Web. Instead, the services will be available only to subscribers to its MSN 8 Internet access service.

Other MSN services that have entered the subscription realm include online radio; bill payment; greeting cards; and "The Zone," an online gaming section.

Hotmail in particular has been trying to persuade users to upgrade to its premium version, which costs $19.99 a year and includes 10MB of storage, along with virus scanning and other features.

Microsoft has been trying to turn its MSN family of services into premium offerings in hopes of luring broadband users. The company's MSN 8 dial-up service has witnessed its subscriber base plummet throughout the year, forcing Microsoft to market MSN 8 as an add-on to people who are getting broadband service through a cable or DSL (digital subscriber line) provider.

Later this winter, Microsoft will release MSN Premium, an updated version of MSN 8 aimed at broadband users, for $9.95 a month or $79.95 a year. MSN 8 currently costs $21.95 a month and includes dial-up Internet access.