Call directory wrangle frustrates phone users
Thousands of phone users are unable to look up overseas numbers with Cable & Wireless HKT's new 'improved' international directory service. Some callers are being told to wait up to a week before an operator will help them, under the two-day-old system which charges users $12 for each international inquiry they make.
The need to bill customers for what had been a free service means operators must identify who the callers are and how they will pay before they ask what number they want. The Post has found the complex system of checks and restrictions often leads to a frustrating refusal by the operator to look up a number.
Customers calling the new 10015 directory service from their home phone can have the search fee added to their monthly IDD bill. But anyone calling from an office that uses a switchboard, or from a home phone without IDD access or from a phone box, will run into trouble.
Callers are asked to either visit their nearest HKT office and pay the $12 in cash first, or to apply for a 'calling card' account, which can be debited when they make an inquiry. Applying costs nothing, but takes seven days.
The Consumer Council is concerned many callers would be unable to obtain numbers easily. 'As far as the charge is concerned, they can do anything they want, but still they have to provide an acceptable standard of service,' spokesman Kenneth So Wai-sang said. 'You can charge me all you want but you can't expect me to walk a block or wait a week. It sounds like not the kind of service a company such as HKT should provide.' HKT, which last week promised that overhauling the inquiry process would give customers a 'faster and more convenient' service, said it would now look at ways to improve the system. A spokeswoman would not say whether a temporary return to free inquiries would be considered while the problems were solved.
'We need to protect our IDD customers and make sure other people don't use their details and charge calls to them,' the spokeswoman said, conceding that the checking process could be lengthy and restrictive. 'We'll look into it and see what can be done.' HKT said callers would also be offered the option of adding the cost to other phone numbers with IDD access, such as their home lines. But only the person whose name is on the bill can do that, leaving other residents in the home with few options.