BT crosses lines with Oftel over end of 192 directory enquiries number

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The Independent Online

BT has hit out at the telecoms regulator over the way it is managing the phasing-out of the current 192 telephone directory enquiries services, saying the process will confuse and irritate customers.

Oftel, which opened up the UK directory enquiries market to competition last year, will switch off the 192 service altogether on 24 August.

The regulator has decided that callers ringing 192 after that date will get a recorded message asking them to dial a freephone number. On dialling that number, they will be given one of the 12 new directory enquiries numbers, chosen at random, but will not be connected directly. The process means customers will have to make three calls to get through to a directories enquiries service provider - all of which have different pricing structures, which will not be explained at the time.

Paul Elliott, chief executive of BT Directories, said: "Our research shows around 70 per cent of people are still quoting 192 as the number to call for directory enquiries. We expect most people to switch at the last possible moment and this is bound to lead to confusion and irritation, as callers will have to make at least three phone calls before they get the number they want." BT said it was concerned that such a large percentage of customers were still quoting 192 as the number to call as well as "the likely impact of the mechanism to be used by phone regulator Oftel to inform callers of the new directory enquiry numbers".

All the new directory enquiries numbers are six digits long and begin with the prefix "118". Under a lottery system, BT was allocated the number 118 500 while one new entrant, Conduit, has 118 888 and Infonxx which uses the brand The Number, has the heavily advertised 118 118 featuring the two moustached runners.

NTL is understood to have signed a deal with Infonxx to put its own customers through automatically to 118 118, despite the fact that this is widely reckoned to be the most expensive of the new services. It charges 49p then 9p a minute. The 118 888 number charges a straight 20p a minute. BT's 118 500 service charges 30p a minute, calculated by the second, and 25p to put a caller through to the required number.

Until now BT has dominated the market with its 40p-a-minute 192 service, which has been in operation for 47 years, handling about 400 million calls every year - or about a million a day. It also offers an online enquiries service through its website, BT.com. This will be unaffected by the end of the 192 number.

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