WASHINGTON - You've heard of on-line banking.

Now there's on-line banking regulation.

In an apparent first for a bank regulatory agency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has decided to allow comments on a proposed regulation to be submitted via the Internet.

The FDIC board approved the proposed rule, which concerns the U.S. retail deposit activities of foreign banks, at its meeting last Tuesday.

The Internet address included in the document caught the attention of board member Jonathan Fiechter, acting director of the Office of Thrift Supervision, who asked if this was something new.

The answer from FDIC staff members was yes.

"This is clearly the influence of the department of research and statistics," said FDIC Chairman Ricki Helfer, who predicted that computer- savvy banking types would be E-mailing their comments "in the wee hours of the morning."

Written comments from interested parties, which are an essential part of the government rulemaking process, are now usually delivered by mail or by hand.

But Thomas Vartanian, a partner with the law firm of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson in Washington who does a lot of bank regulatory work, said he would have no problem sending his comments on-line.

"We communicate now with several hundred clients and others via the Internet," Mr. Vartanian said. "We'd feel comfortable communicating (with bank regulators) that way."

The FDIC's Internet move may break ground for the banking agencies, but it's nothing new for the Federal Register, in which all proposed federal regulations are published.

The Environmental Protection Agency already accepts comments on most of its many rules via the Internet, while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration invites Register readers to visit its home page on the World Wide Web to read more about its proposals.

The address for comments on the FDIC's proposed rule, by the way, is comments fdic.gov.

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