DALLAS - The Interlink on-line debit network has eliminated fees for independent sales organizations that are registered to sell other Visa services.

Previously, such organizations paid two fees, one to Visa International, and one to Visa's Interlink subsidiary, so that one starting up had to pay $15,000. That fee is now reduced to $7,500. And for those who have a standing relationship with Visa, the fee is only $2,500 for annual renewal.

The fee reduction is designed to promote a more rapid rollout of on-line debit to the U.S. merchant base.

The Visa move follows a similar action taken by MasterCard International's Maestro network, which has waived such registration fees for the past two years and promises to waive them again next year.

Maestro's fees ranged from $1,000 to $5,000 for initial registration and from $500 to $1,000 for renewal.

"These two very influential networks have taken huge steps that make it much easier and cost effective for an ISO to join," said David W. Howe, vice president of Atlanta-based Lynk Systems Inc., a processor and independent sales organization. Mr. Howe termed the announcement a "wonderful uplifting move," since firms like his - with their large base of credit card accepting merchants - have the ability to bring debit to a new level of acceptance.

"You asked for it and you got it," said Linda S. Perry, Visa's vice president of merchant relations, to representatives of independent sales organizations, merchant banks, processors, regional electronic banking networks, card associations, vendors, and consultants gathered for Faulkner & Gray's eighth annual POS Today conference.

"We see a key role for ISOs in Interlink growth," said Ms. Perry, "by leveraging existing relationships and expanding to new categories of merchants and also smaller merchants."

Other conference speakers echoed the defining role independent sales organizations can play in getting merchants to accept debit cards.

"I will say, without qualification, that ISOs have been responsible for the success of merchant acceptance at Maestro," said Carl Stefanelli, a MasterCard vice president. "ISOs are simply too valuable to the industry to hamper them with punitive fees and burdensome regulations."

Yet the independents say regional networks dam the debit cause with a mishmash of conflicting regulations and prohibitively high fees.

Industry insiders speculate that regional networks may now have to follow suit to stay competitive.

Conference chairman Stephen Cole of Chicago's Cash Station network noted with some disappointment that his organization's fees ($2,500 initially, and $2,500 for annual renewal) are now highest in the country. He promised to look into the matter.

By comparison, the Most network charges $2,000 for registration, and $1,200 for renewal, Star/Explore charges $2,500 and $1,000, Pulse and Honor charge $1,500 and $1,000.

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