When it comes to tracking down telephone numbers, Paul Gosling finds a company that can help with inquiries
PhoneLink's Tel-Me is a fast-growing dial-up service that straddles the commercial and consumer fence. It offers e-mail but no other Internet connections, preferring to sell itself on a range of services provided by other companies. Its prices reflect this position - expensive for a consumer service, cheap for a business one.

Tel-Me offers an impressive clutch of services: a phone directory, a British Rail timetable, a postcode generator, AA Roadwatch, AA hotel and restaurant listings, weather forecasts, the PA newswire, an Ordnance Survey mapper, the Thomson business directory and two credit-checking services, from CCN and Infocheck.

The most frequently used service is the telephone directory. This uses BT's database, is updated weekly, and costs 12p per inquiry, compared with BT's 25p for a directory inquiry by phone. The volume of use generated already makes it the country's leading independent phone number provider.

Since last month Tel-Me subscribers can also use an electronic postal service. Electronic messages sent to Royal Mail before 6pm on any working day should be delivered as a letter in the next day's post. Those businesses that want to adopt electronic mail as the standard means of correspondence, particularly for mail shots, can now do so, even for destinations without an e-mail address. It will also assist disabled people and those in rural areas, without easy access to post boxes, to send surface mail.

A computer loaded with Tel-Me is thus a powerful business tool and a handy information source for individuals. It is reasonably simple to use: click on the service you want, fill in the appropriate boxes, and the computer dials up and looks for the information. It can take a while to find it, but it can handle several inquiries at the same time.

The one service that caused problems was the mapper. Although this will find any address in the country, and display a map with a cross marking the spot, the display is confusing and the system for showing road names hard to master.

Tel-Me can be contacted on 0800 991155. Software is pounds 49.95; then pounds 9.95 per month. Services such as the weather and news headlines are free. Others range from 5p to 50p per inquiry, except company reports (up to pounds 24). A partnership between Tel-Me and the access provider Pipex allows users to subscribe to both at a reduced registration charge of pounds 99.95, plus monthly subscription of pounds 19.95. This package includes provision of higher- speed Tel-Me software, full Internet access together with World Wide Web browser, and a gateway between Pipex and Tel-Me. Another bundle, BT Online Information, includes Tel-Me and the Electronic Yellow Pages.

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