BT insists payphone charges must rise

Minimum payphone charge will rise to 20p
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The Independent Online

BT triggered a storm of protest yesterday by announcing it will increase the minimum cost for using its pay phones from 10p to 20p and introduce charges for directory inquiries calls made from them.

BT triggered a storm of protest yesterday by announcing it will increase the minimum cost for using its pay phones from 10p to 20p and introduce charges for directory inquiries calls made from them.

Malcolm Newing, the director of BT Payphones, insisted that the rise was in line with inflation since the last price hike, in 1984, when the minimum charge was increased from 2p to 10p.

He also noted that against a background of rising mobile phone use, the current call charges do not cover the costs of cleaning, maintenance, theft and vandalism.

The changes, to be introduced in October, will also include a flat-rate charge of 11p per minute for making calls to fixed phones, whether to local or national numbers. This is a 23 per cent increase on local call rates but an equivalent reduction for national calls.

The rises were immediately criticised by the Consumers Association and the Telecommunications Users' Association (TUA), which represents businesses. "This is part of a wider trend of more competition putting pressure on services that fulfil a wider social function," said the Consumers' Association. "This is a big, one-off increase and it's bound to have an impact on phone use."

It said the telecoms watchdog ,Oftel, should investigate.

A spokesman for the TUA, Steve Thorpe, said: "I thought BT had more competition, which should bring prices down but it looks as though BT is comparing its prices with those of pre-pay mobile phones and putting them up to meet them."

Mr Thorpe said that the TUA was "sad" to see charges brought in for directory inquiries: "I thought they said it would be free back in the days when they removed all the phone directories from the phone boxes. Whatever happened to that?"

BT's research has found that mobile phone users, who have to pay at least 60p to get a directory inquiries number, tend to stop at pay phones to use the free service.

BT also said the volume of calls made from pay phones had fallen 12 per cent this year alone. Separate surveys have found that more than half of the adult population now has a mobile phone.

Mr Newing said the payphone network had improved enormously since 1984. There were 83 per cent more pay phones and 95 per cent of them functioning.

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