Many people think the Internet is just a cornucopia of useless information, overrun with chat rooms and Web pages devoted to the minutiae of pop culture.

But Norwest Mortgage Inc., Des Moines, and PMI Group, a mortgage insurer, are attempting to harness the Internet for practical business purposes. In December, the two companies successfully sent encrypted mortgage insurance applications over the Internet.

The main concern surrounding transmission of mortgage insurance applications over the Internet is security. However, Harvey W. Syverson, vice president of management information systems for San Francisco-based PMI, said that it is not a problem because the encryption software used by PMI and Norwest exceeds government standards for encoding information.

This isn't the first time companies have attempted to transmit mortgage insurance applications electronically. But to do so outside of the Internet, lenders must hook up to networks provided by technology vendors. Once on the network, the lender would have to pay a monthly charge and transaction fees based on the volume of applications sent across the network.

Mr. Syverson said transmitting applications over the Internet is cheaper than the other types of electronic data interface (EDI) transmissions because, basically, the only cost is the Internet connection fee.

"Companies that are not afraid to aggressively use technology and see cost savings will use this route," Mr. Syverson said. He added that another lender is in discussions with PMI to set up a similar program.

For Norwest, the nation's largest originator and servicer of mortgage loans, using the Internet to transmit mortgage insurance applications is yet another example of its willingness to keep up with cutting-edge technology. Norwest is widely recognized by industry observers as being among the most technologically advanced mortgage lenders.

Wallace Price, Norwest's director of communications and development services, said the Internet allows it to reduce processing time for mortgage insurance applications.

Mr. Syverson said that batches of more than a hundred loans can be sent over the Internet at one time, and that the turn-around time for receiving the applications and having a decision sent back to the lender is about 30 to 60 seconds.

One issue that still needs to be resolved before Internet use becomes more commonplace is guaranteed delivery.

Mr. Syverson said additional steps need to be taken so that confirmations can be sent between parties to ensure that transactions were received. He added that this should not be difficult to achieve.

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