Phone callers to pay for foreign number searches

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 May, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 May, 2000, 12:00am

Phone users will soon have to pay $12 to find out a number overseas when Cable & Wireless HKT changes what for years has been a free service. The charge - to take effect next Thursday - will mean consumers can spend up to half an hour on some long-distance calls for the same price as finding out the number.

The Consumer Council said there was nothing it could do to stop what for HKT was a 'commercial decision', but expressed hope rival phone networks would boost competition in the market and maintain a free directory service.

An HKT spokeswoman said the $12 charge would cover the costs of overhauling the 10013 service, which will be relaunched under the number 10015. 'The key objective of this change is to provide better customer service and ensure we can provide the customer with a faster and more convenient way to check overseas numbers,' she said.

Instead of operators calling customers back when they have looked up a number, as is the case now, callers will stay on the line while the operator phones abroad for the number. If they need more information than is provided, they can interrupt and make a more specific request.

'The $12 is just to cover our costs, which include international call charges and some man hours,' HKT said. Finding out the time in a foreign city, or area codes, would still be free.

Hutchison Telecom also offers an international directory inquiry service which is now free, but officials were discussing yesterday whether to start charging for it when HKT does. 'We will be closely monitoring the market to see whether there will be any changes,' a spokeswoman said.

A spokeswoman for the Office of the Telecommunications Authority said HKT, as the dominant operator, needed approval to change fees and had received it. 'The operators are required to provide free of charge local number directory services to the public because we regard it as a basic service,' Kay Yau Ka-yee said.

'But they're not obliged to provide free directory services - or services at all - on checking overseas telephone numbers since we don't take it as a basic telephone service.'