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Updated from 9:55 a.m. EDT

If there was ever a time to take on the

New York Stock Exchange

about its unique way of executing trades, now's the time -- and the nation's largest mutual fund company has stepped up to the plate.

The Big Board, reeling from the disclosure of Chairman Dick Grasso's $187.5 million pay package and his subsequent departure, faces another direct challenge to its floor-trading system, as the top trading official at Fidelity Investments called for an end to the auction-based system in which specialists match buyers and sellers.

In an interview with

The Wall Street Journal

, Scott DeSano, head of global equity trading at Fidelity, called for an end to the NYSE's auction-based trading system, saying Fidelity would prefer an electronic trading system, the kind used by the

Nasdaq Stock Market

and most other exchanges.

The article was causing some shares to move. New York Stock Exchange specialist

LaBranche

(LAB)

TheStreet Recommends

was recently down 83 cents, or 6%, to $13, while electronic communications network

Instinet

(INET)

was up 90 cents, or 17%, to $6.17.

DeSano has criticized the Big Board's trading system in the past -- in

Institutional Investor

magazine last year, for instance -- as have other industry leaders, most notably Harold Bradley at American Century and John Montgomery at Bridgeway Funds. But Tuesday's article signals that Fidelity is lending its considerable weight to push for change: The

Journal

article noted that top Fidelity officials, including heir and president Abigail Johnson, met with officials at the

Securities and Exchange Commission

and with NYSE interim chairman John Reed recently to express their views.

At stake is the floor-trading system that has existed for more than 200 years and has become emblematic of the Big Board itself. The NYSE is the only major stock market in the world to use an auction system, in which specialist firms oversee trading between buyers and sellers in stocks listed on the exchange. The NYSE defends the system, saying it rewards investors by giving them the best price in most situations.

Fidelity and other fund companies say the system suffers from the human factor -- the primary complaints being that specialist firms trade from their own accounts at the investors' expense, and that trades aren't always executed in the most timely fashion. An electronic trading network has been a more cost-effective method of executing trades, many industry officials say. If a full shift to electronic trading doesn't arise, Fidelity and others are at least pushing for curbs in trading allowed by specialists.