BT doubles payphone charges

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The Independent Online

British Telecom has doubled the minimum cost of making a payphone call from 10p to 20p.

British Telecom has doubled the minimum cost of making a payphone call from 10p to 20p.

It has also introduced charges to its previously free directory inquiry service from them.

The company, which made a £3.3b profit last year, said its first payphone rise in 16 years was in line with inflation.

And it defended itself over criticism that call charges should have fallen due to increased competition.

Malcolm Newing, director of BT Payphones, said the rise was to fight a fall in payphone use following the rise in mobile phone use.

He also said the old call charges did not cover the cost of cleaning, maintenance, theft and vandalism of phone boxes.

Mr Newing said: "The mobile phone has completely changed the way people communicate from home or office. People once used pay phones for those calls.

"In addition BT Payphones has to cover the costs of providing its directory enquiry service, unlike directory enquiry calls made on ordinary telephone lines and mobile phones, which are paid for by the customer.

"BT Payphones is a self-contained business that has to pay its own way and can no longer afford to absorb these costs."

Mr Newing said the pay phone network had improved enormously since 1984 and stressed they were "excellent value" compared with mobile phones.

BT said the volume of calls made from pay phones had fallen 12 percent this year alone.

Separate surveys have found that more than half of the adult population now has a mobile phone.

The changes also include a flat-rate charge of 11p per minute for making calls to fixed phones, whether to local or national numbers.

This is an increase on local call rates which were 9p a minute but a reduction for national calls, which were 14p a minute.

Both UK and international directory enquiry calls, which were free, are now charged from pay phones at the rate of 11p a minute, subject to the minimum charge of 20p.

Criticism has come from the Telecommunications Users' Association (TUA) which was "amazed" that BT should use competition from mobile phones as a reason to put up its prices.

Steve Thorpe, spokesman for the TUA, said competition should have brought the prices of pay phone calls down. The TUA would have preferred a reduction in time for 10p rather than in increase in cost for the same time.

He said: "Most people make very quick calls from pay phones so they will suffer.

"BT pledged to keep a free directory enquiry service when they axed the phone book in each box, but people have forgotten.

"They complain that the pay phone is not profitable but they are obliged to provide a universal service."

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