e've stated before our commitment to the digital world and digital commerce. If a business transaction can be handled electronically, with a minimum of paper, we're for it. We even like e-tickets, sort of. We like the fact that travel agents can report their ARC sales electronically. And we commend ARC, again, for giving agents this option.

Having said that, we're a little taken aback at ARC's proposal to triple the annual fee for travel agents who choose to continue to report sales under what ARC now calls "the old, outdated manual system."

ARC counted 40,309 travel agency locations in the system at the end of September, of which 20,944, or 52%, report their sales using the new electronic system. ARC said it doesn't want agents who report sales using the new low-cost electronic option to be burdened with paying fees to support the older, more costly manual system.

That sounds reasonable in principle, but the practical effect for manually reporting agents will be to push the annual fee to $475 a little over a year from now, up from $150 today. ARC plans to accomplish this with quarterly surcharges of $100 or more, beginning on July 1, 2001.

Agencies that report electronically get a notably less dramatic fee reduction, from $150 to $125 -- which might lead one to wonder why the stick is so much bigger than the carrot.

Presumably, ARC did its homework and crunched the numbers for this proposal, but as long as it has its calculator out, maybe it can figure how many 5% airline commissions it takes to cover a $325 increase in a travel agency's annual operating costs. The short answer is: too many.

ARC reports that the members of its Joint Advisory Board agreed to present the proposal to the ARC board, with the exception of ASTA, which opposed it.

We're with ASTA on this one.

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