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Verizon Wireless, the second largest US mobile phone network operator, has dropped the monthly fee for its music download service as it steps up the battle to win new subscribers.

The company, a joint venture between Verizon Communications of the US and Britain’s Vodafone group, dropped the $15-a-month charge at the same time as it launched a new music-centric handset dubbed “Chocolate” from South Korea’s LG Electronics.

Customers buying the new “slider-style” handset or other Verizon-branded mobile phones capable of downloading music and video will in future only pay the $1.99 per-track download fee. The Verizon Wireless online store currently offers 1.3m songs for sale, compared with the 3m available from Apple’s iTunes store.

The LG phone is the first handset deployed by Verizon Wireless designed to look and operate like a digital music player. It comes with a dedicated button on the side to access music stored on the device’s internal or expandable memory and a scroll wheel to navigate music files, similar to Apple Computer’s iPod players.

Users can plug a removable memory card into expanding its storage capacity to as many as 1,000 songs.

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