Mastre, MasterCard International's debit card network, was officially launched on Wednesday when an executive of People's Bank of Connecticut bought gas with an ATM card at an Arco service station in Los Angeles.

Maestro officials are hoping that the transaction - billed bilthe debut of national, fully-electronic debiting - will raise its profile in the battle with Interlink, Visa U.SA.'s debit card system.

Banks that sign up with Maestro or Interlink can issue automated teller machine cards that can be used to buy goods and services nationwide. As with cash withdrawals, customer's accounts are immediately debited.

MasterCard worked closely with regional networks to develop its Maestro system.

Across the Continent

Wednesday's Arco transaction was forwarded electronically to People's Bank of Connecticut through two regional ATM networks: California's Star System Inc. and New England's Yankee 24.

The transaction "indicates to everybody that we are a national network, developed with the regional networks,to make it easy for merchants and banks to participate," said Arthur D. Kranzley, president of Maestro U. S. A.

Visa, for its part, maintains that its Interlink network has already handled about 100 national transactions through various pilot programs.

"To us, this is not the first national on-line transaction," a Visa spokeswoman said. She defined a national transaction as a purchase made by an ATM cardholder of an East Coast bank of a West Coast merchant.

People's Bank, a $5.8 billion-asset company based in Bridgeport, is the first company to give its cardholders access to the Maestro network. Mr. Kranzley said that cardholders of Bank United of Texas will have access later this week.

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