Sinister motive behind cancelled service?

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 March, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 March, 1996, 12:00am

I WISH to bring to the attention of your readers another cynical ploy by Hongkong Telecom to restrict public access to information which has been available in Hong Kong for many years.

Hongkong Telecom cancelled its on-line Directory Inquiry service available to Datapak subscribers, with effect from January 27, without providing any plausible reason or requesting any feedback from its customers. I have used this service extensively in the more than eight years that I have been resident in Hong Kong.

When I complained to Hongkong Telecom, the company replied that the 'same service in good quality' is already provided by its operator Directory Inquiry and Fax Inquiry services. This is simply not the case. First, when the operator-serviced lines are busy it is quite normal to have to wait for several minutes even before any operator can be reached, whereas on-line access used to be immediate. Second, only three inquiries can be made at any one time, as opposed to unlimited access by on-line searching.

Third, the operators provide the information directly.

If they make a mistake, and provide a tape recording of the wrong number, then one has to begin the same process all over again. Lastly, no address information can be corroborated over the telephone, but this could be confirmed via on-line searching.

Hongkong Telecom has to maintain its on-line directory for its own operators so surely the cost involved in making the very same information available to the public must be minimal? Furthermore, the information provided is simply an up-to-date version of that available in Hongkong Telecom's own telephone directories, so the information cannot be considered confidential.

Could it be that Hongkong Telecom was influenced in its decision to cancel its on-line directory service by Yellow Pages or, with 1997 looming fast, was there an even more sinister motive for restricting public access to this information? After all, in many other countries around the world, it is very easily accessible.

I look forward to Hongkong Telecom's response.