All-news cable channel MSNBC (search) is changing its name, according to reports.

The new channel will be called NBC News Channel, according to the Internet's Drudge Report — apparently losing its connection to software giant Microsoft.

The change has long been rumored to be in the works.

Last March, it was reported that NBC and Microsoft (MSFT) (the "MS" part of MSNBC) were negotiating to sever their nine-year partnership for the channel.

"The new name is cleaner, less confusing . . . represents the programming," Drudge quoted an insider as saying.

No word on when the change might come.

An MSNBC spokeswoman yesterday labeled the report "nothing more than an Internet rumor."

The channel has been mired in third place in the ratings behind FOX News Channel and CNN for years, and the hoped-for synergy between the channel and online MSNBC.com never really materialized.

News Corp. (NWS) is the parent company of the FOX News Channel, which operates FOXNews.com.

NBC reportedly was eager to run the network alone — without having to deal with a partner.

The network struggled to establish a personality of its own distinct and separate from its rivals.

Unlike FOX and CNN — where each network is an end in itself — MSNBC has never been able to shake the image of being a farm team for NBC broadcast news.

Microsoft is said to have been paying about $30 million a year to cover its end of the losses. Last year was said to be its first profitable one.