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Wednesday, 19 September, 2001, 12:12 GMT 13:12 UK
BT loses enquiries monopoly
BT workers and phone boxes
Directory enquiries: A profitable sideline for BT
One of British Telecom's last monopolies has been abolished, with the introduction of competition to its directory enquiries service.

Telecom regulator Oftel said it would scrap the "192" number for enquiries, and directory companies will be allowed to set up rival services from the beginning of next year.

From that date, customers will be able to choose which company they call for enquiries by dialling new five-digit numbers beginning with the numbers "118".

Within hours of the Oftel announcement, German firm Telegate said it would be setting up a call centre in Dumfries, Scotland, with the intention of capturing one-fifth of the market within three to five years.

And Conduit, an Irish firm that is also eyeing the UK enquiries market, welcomed the move.

Cheaper and better

Oftel hopes that introducing competition will cut down the expense of enquiry calls, for which BT currently charges 40-60p.

BT's rivals complain that the firm is manipulating its monopoly position.

The British enquiries market is estimated to be worth an annual 250m - four times as much as the German market, despite its much smaller number of telephone customers.

Oftel is also keen on pushing some quality improvements, including a single number for classified and standard services, and services in a range of languages for tourists and ethnic groups.

See also:

23 Aug 01 | Business
Broadband fines threat to BT
27 Jun 01 | Business
Oftel orders BT to cut prices
18 Jun 01 | Business
Oftel issues scam warning
22 Sep 00 | Business
Oftel hits back as criticism mounts
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