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Paying for low-cost items on the internet could be made as simple as settling your phone bill if a scheme launched yesterday by Cable & Wireless and Seattle-based eCHARGE catches on in the UK. The micropayment system means that users don't have to release credit card details to purchase low cost items or services such as news and information over the internet. Instead, the charges are simply added to their phone bills. eCHARGE works by allowing users to transfer automatically their local rate internet call connection to a higher tariff when they want to purchase goods or services. Once the transaction is completed, users can either return to their normal local charge rate or access another higher rate web site to buy something else. Already available in US, the UK is the first country in Europe to launch the product. If it catches on, then it could be used to pay for more substantial items such as CDs or books. And because phone bills are sent out quarterly, it means that consumers could receive up to three months credit on items although the telephone regulator is yet to rule on this. "This venture creates a completely new avenue for web commerce which will benefit consumers, service providers and telecoms companies," said Mark Heraghty of CWC. "It is an important step forward in developing consumer confidence in web commerce, creating new commercial opportunities, and for the first time generating revenue from internet transactions for both content and network providers," he said. No retailer has yet agreed to take part in eCHARGE. The launch of this new e-commerce comes days after DigiCash announced it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and the closure of a number of Mondex trials. ®

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