Rivals fear BT stranglehold on enquiries

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Rival operators fear BT will be handed a massive boost in its efforts to keep its stranglehold on directory enquiries when the service is deregulated this August.

Rival operators fear BT will be handed a massive boost in its efforts to keep its stranglehold on directory enquiries when the service is deregulated this August.

Oftel, the phone regulator, will rule this week whether BT can direct people who phone the old 192 number to BT's 118 500 service when 192 is phased out.

Under the deregulation plan, 192 will become defunct over the August bank holiday weekend, which is believed to be the quietest time for directory enquiries.

Under BT's plans, anyone who calls 192 will either get a message telling them to call its new 118 500 service or be redirected to 118 500. According to Oftel, it is estimated that half of the two million people who call directory enquiries each day will initially forget the number has changed and call 192.

BT's rivals say that this would give it a massive competitive advantage. "This will save BT tens of millions in marketing and allow it to hold on to potentially millions of customers who might have used other services," said William Ostrom, communications director of The Number, which, backed by US group InfoNXX, is launching a rival service using the number 118 118. BT is also likely to face competition from at least one other rival service, launched by another small operator, Conduit. Cable companies Telewest and NTL are launching services and the four mobile phone operators will offer them, too.

Oftel has had a consultation about what should happen with the recorded message and is likely to rule this week. It is expected it will side with BT, which may persuade rival operators to take legal action against the regulator. Oftel is considering The Number's complaint about BT advertising its new service on its phone directories – soon to be sent out to customers. It wanted distribution stopped. Oftel is unlikely to concur.

Comments