Pacific Gas & Electric Co. customers soon will be able to pay their utility bills with Apple Inc.'s iPhone as part of a pilot the San Francisco-based utility agreed to with bill-payments expediter Tio Networks Corp.

The companies expect the service to begin sometime this summer. A Pacific Gas & Electric spokesperson did not know how long the pilot would last.

Once the service is a available, Pacific Gas & Electric customers in Northern and Central California, the utility's service area, may download Tio's payment application to their iPhones from the Apple store website. When using the application, customers type in their mobile-phone number, their Pacific Gas & Electric account number and their method of payment.

The utility plans to accept credit cards, and it may accept debit cards, but it has not decided which card brands it will accept for payment, Joe Molica, a utility spokesperson, tells PaymentsSource. Tio will charge customers $3.45 for each payment made with an iPhone.

The utility expects the service to be popular with customers, John Lewis, Tio's head of business development, tells PaymentsSource. Pacific Gas & Electric predicts "100,000 customers will pay bills through their iPhones," he says. The utility has 15 million customers, Molica says.

Vancouver, British Columbia-based Tio's agreement with Pacific Gas & Electric is its first venture into mobile payments. "We have other mobile bill-payment agreements in the works, but we are not ready to announce anything just yet," Lewis says. Tio also is developing payment applications for Blackberry and Android phones, he says.

The Pacific Gas & Electric agreement is a departure for Tio, which is best known for pioneering expedited bill payments through kiosks deployed in retail stores that accept only banknotes.

Although Lewis expects mobile bill payments to be popular, he says the iPhone and the expedited bill-payment kiosks serve two different markets. "A person who pays at the bill-payment kiosk may not even have a credit card," he says. "The iPhone app appeals to customers who are mobile and consider this a convenient way to pay."

Molica agrees. "We are always on the lookout for services that make it more convenient for customers to pay their bills," he says.

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