American Electric Power of Columbus, Ohio, plans to offer its customers an electronic bill presentment service from Checkfree Corp., starting in January.

H.E. Rhodes, director of customer services at the utility, which has 2.9 million customers in seven midwestern states, said anticipated cost savings are nominal. "It really represents another option as far as customers are concerned," he said.

He expects 10,000 to 17,000 households to make use of the service next year.

Checkfree has sold its presentment services to 21 billers. Retail customers can receive their bills on the Internet and initiate electronic remittances.

American Electric's Web site will be linked to Checkfree's Web site or to the consumer's bank's site on the Internet.

Checkfree would gather the necessary billing and banking information from customers and arrange for a debit payment via the automated clearing house. American Electric would use information in an electronic data interchange format to reconcile its accounts receivable system.

If electronic billing and presentment gain widespread acceptance, Mr. Rhodes said, the utility would consider developing an in-house system to automate billing and collections.

American Electric has offered a preauthorized automated clearing house debit service for years, but it did not gain many users, Mr. Rhodes said.

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