The operator of the MAC electronic banking network has introduced a prepaid phone card -- the first in a series of products expected to culminate in a storedvalue smart card.

Money Access Service, the division of Electronic Payment Services Inc., Wilmington, Del., that runs MAC, said its telephone calling service will include discounted long-distance rates.

Unlike other prepaid calling cards on the market, which are thrown away when their value is used up, the MAC phone accounts are replenishable.

The prepaid phone card will be piloted with seven MAC-member financial institutions in the Middle Atlantic region by the end of this month. It is to be available to all MAC members and their cardholders in December.

"The MAC prepaid phone card is the first in a series of MAC products that will familiarize the public with the general concept of stored value," said John R. Beran, president of Money Access Service.

Next year, EPS and the MAC network plan to introduce in Delaware an open-system stored value program, using smart cards accepted by multiple merchants. Funds will be transferable directly from the chip embedded in MAC ATM cards, without the need for an on-line communication between store and bank.

Like its precursor, the prepaid phone card, the MAC smart card also will be replenishable.

EPS worked with Bottom Line Telecommunications, of Vancouver, Wash., a leading provider of prepaid calling card services, to produce the MAC phone card.

The card can be used for domestic and international calls from any touch-tone phone without the surcharges often associated with hotel, collect, operatorassisted, pay phone, credit card, and other premium telephone services. The per-minute rate. is the same 24 hours a day, seven days a week within the continental United States.

Financial institutions that are members of MAC will promote and sell the phone cards, in $10 to $100 increments. The cards will bear the financial institution's name.

When phone card customers want to add more time to the card, they can call an 800 number, key in their personal identification MAC number and debit their deposit account. Ultimately, phone cardholders will be able to add value at a MAC ATM using their MAC cards.

Prepaid phone cads were introduced about four years ago and became popular among consumers and collectors last year. A number of banks, including Key Federal Savings Bank, Havre de Grace, Md., and Community Bank & Trust of Comelia, Ga., have begun to offer the prepaid products.

The MAC network is the largest U.S. electronic funds transfer network in terms of transactions handled by its central switch. It connects 15,000 ATMs and 117,000 point of sale terminals in 32 states. Some 1,500 financial institutions are members of the MAC network, and they have 28 million customers carrying cards bearing the MAC logo.

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