TV Answer Inc., the developer of a television add-on for shopping at home, signed up its first bill payment service this week.

The vendor is CheckFree Corp., Columbus, Ohio. CheckFree is the largest provider of software that lets microcomputer users pay bills electronically.

Competing with Banks

The bill payment feature from TV Answer-CheckFree would compete with similar services many banks now offer via personal computers or the telephone.

A number of banks have relaunched electronic bill payment services. Some, like Columbus-based Huntington Bancshares Inc., are marketing enhanced telephones for the purpose.

The TV Answer-CheckFree service will be commercially available in the second quarter of 1993, according to officials of TV Answer, based in Reston, Va.

The system "will be developed between now and the end of the year, and it will be part of the initial offering," said Daniel M. Pence, TV Answer's director of bill payment services.

Hewlett-Packard Co., Palo Alto, Calif., is developing the hardware - a hand-held remote control and a black box to be placed on top of the television.

The setup is expected to cost less than $700 per television.

TV Answer said it aims to put 1.5 million units into homes by the second quarter of 1994.

Fees for the TV Answer bill-payment service have not been determined. According to Michael M. Sapienza, vice president of marketing at CheckFree, charges would probably be comparable to those it levies for its other delivery mechanisms - about $10 a month for 20 transactions and $2.50 for every 10 additional transactions.

Payment data would be transmitted over radio waves and then by satellite to TV Answer's main site. From there the data would be relayed to CheckFree's processing center.

CheckFree would usually pay the bills through electronic transfer using an automated clearing house, or with the consumer's credit card. But if the seller could not receive electronic transfers, CheckFree would print checks and mail them.

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