Consolidated Edison Co. of New York is letting its customers view and pay bills on its own Web site.
Fewer than a dozen U.S. companies offer bill presentment and payment via the Internet. Most use Web sites maintained by Atlanta-based Checkfree Corp.
The Con Ed service, which was launched in July, lets consumers gain access to bills on-line after typing in their Con Ed account numbers. To pay a bill, consumers send bank account information to Con Ed in encrypted Internet messages. After collecting this information through its Web site, Con Ed prints paper drafts that are cleared through the check-processing system.
Con Ed receives about 250 Web-initiated payments per week, but that number is expected to rise sharply as more of the company's three million customers become aware of the service.
The utility's officials said their company's success with a phone-based bill payment system led them to explore other modes of delivery.
"We realize how busy New Yorkers are, and we wanted to give them another option to pay their Con Edison bill," said Con Ed spokesman Michael Spall.
Bill Burnham, senior research analyst at Minneapolis-based Piper Jaffray & Co., called the Internet billing service "impressive." He noted that it helps reduce Con Ed's remittance processing costs while allowing for targeted advertising and promotions.
"Con Edison is taking the first step and is leading the pack for other utility companies by offering an easy option for its customers to pay their utility bill," Mr. Burnham said.
But not all observers lauded Con Ed's service. Karl Keirstead, research analyst at Lehman Brothers, said the system is an "inconvenience and won't light the fire with its customers."
He maintained that Con Ed is "testing the water" and eventually will have to move to centralized bill presentment Web sites, such as those operated by Checkfree or MSFDC, the joint venture between Microsoft Corp. and First Data Corp.
Mr. Spall said Con Ed might consider using third-party service providers as more sophisticated bill payment systems develop.
"Con Edison will have to balance their customers' needs, and they may have to go with a third party as an additional option for bill payment," said Mr. Burnham.
This article previously appeared in American Banker's Web edition.