Though micropayments over the Internet have not gained a following in the United States, National Westminster Bank is trying to make them a viable business in England.
A service that would become available in 1999 would help businesses that want to sell digital information accept micropayments over the Web, said John Paddick, commercial development director at Natwest Card Services. At first customers would have to preload funds into a virtual wallet maintained by Natwest. Eventually they could use credit or debit cards.
The information for sale could include video clips, music soundtracks, or reports. And the companies could charge different sums for varying amounts of it-for example, for a summary of a report and or the full text.
U.S. companies including Cybercash Inc., Digicash Inc., and Digital Equipment Corp. have had little success developing a market in the United States for this type of service.
What is needed, said Claus Nehmzow of Booz, Allen & Hamilton Inc., is such technological improvements as more bandwidth to permit transmission of large computer files.
"Natwest is really thinking about where electronic commerce is going to be in a few years' time," said Mr. Nehmzow, a principal in Booz Allen's London office.
Natwest has licensed technology from Intertrust Technologies Corp. in Sunnyvale, Calif., to offer the service.