Telecom says number is up for obscene phone callers

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The Independent Online
BRITISH TELECOM is to test a device designed to curb obscene and hoax calls - it shows the number the caller is phoning from, allowing customers to choose whether to answer.

Five hundred domestic customers in Elgin, north-east Scotland, are to take part in a three-month trial of the 'caller display' system from next month.

Carol Rue, BT's network services development manager, described it as 'the telephone equivalent of the peephole in your front door'. Subject to a successful trial, she expected the service to be available nationwide by the end of 1994.

An add-on unit is expected to cost pounds 30 to pounds 35, or a special telephone about pounds 70 to pounds 80.

Such a facility has been introduced piecemeal in much of the United States, leading to a dramatic fall in malicious and hoax calls. But there has been little public consultation, which has led to a backlash from some consumers and even prompted bans on caller-ID services in some states.

However, a recent survey in Britain found that more than 80 per cent of respondents could not recall an occasion in the past three months when they would not have wanted their telephone number displayed.

However, Sue Bloomfield, of the Consumer Association's policy unit, said that people should be able to block the service, and

opt not to have their number

displayed.

'It is a useful service to people who want more control over what calls they want to take, but there is also a privacy issue. Another potential problem is that companies could capture numbers and use them for marketing. People might respond to an advertisement, and find themselves added to a database,' she said.

BT promised that ex-directory customers would be consulted, and they would be able to stop their numbers being shown. It is not yet possible for mobile and car telephones to make use of the system.

BT plans even more services based on caller line identity: a facility to ring back the last caller automatically - useful if a telephone stops ringing just as you get to it.

It might also be possible to request a different tone for business and personal calls, and to reprogram telephones remotely to direct calls to another number.

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