Free directory inquiry under threat

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 November, 2009, 12:00am

Free directory inquiry calls and White Pages telephone directories could be things of the past if measures in a consultation paper released yesterday by the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (Ofta) are introduced.

The paper comes after a poll commissioned by Ofta early this year found demand for the printed telephone directory, which fixed network operators are required to provide to customers, was low, with 94 per cent of 1,036 respondents saying they had not used it in the past year.

But the poll found the directory inquiry service - 1081 for English or 1083 for Chinese - was very popular, with about 99 per cent making an average of 2.1 calls to it a month, and 0.1 per cent making an average of 62.

'Consideration can be given to coming up with some form of arrangements to ensure fair use of the free [directory inquiry] service,' the Ofta consultation paper says.

At present, fixed network operators are required to provide directory services free to their customers.

Fees for such calls have been introduced in many places, including Australia, Ireland, Singapore, Britain, and the United States, with charging on a per-call basis.

'One possible solution is to cap the number of free [directory inquiry] calls bundled in the monthly subscription of telephone service,' the consultation paper says. 'A direct charge would be imposed for additional [inquiry] calls which exceed the cap so that only the relatively heavy users would be affected.'

But the poll found about 60 per cent of people opposed a charge. Of those who would accept a charge, more than half said capping free calls at 10 a month would be reasonable.

The consultation ends in January.