Merrill Lynch & Co.'s ambitious plan to start on-line trading in December puts off for six months any chance to catch up with rivals in the fast-moving Internet brokerage business.

Amid much hoopla, Merrill announced Tuesday that it would enter the on- line fray by charging $29.95 per trade, a plan that would put it in the same league as Charles Schwab & Co., the San Francisco-based discount brokerage.

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