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Date published: 2005/03/18
The BBC says:
Consumers are paying more to obtain phone numbers than they did prior to abolition of the 192 directory services, an official report says.
The National Audit Office (NAO) has been looking at the replacement, in August 2003, of 192 with more than 100 helplines, all pre-fixed with 118.
Edward Leigh MP, chairman of the public accounts committee, said the public "has lost out" through the changeover.
But Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, said services had recently been improving.
The NAO report concluded:
- Residential consumers are paying more for directory enquiry services than under 192
- Consumers are confused by the array of numbers on offer and as a result use directory services with the most memorable numbers, which may not always offer the best prices
- Consumers are using directory enquiry services less frequently than they did prior to deregulation
- It is difficult to be certain whether service quality had changed as a result of deregulation as there were no accurate figures about the performance of the old 192 service.
Mr Leigh was damning in his assessment of the role of Oftel, the forerunner of Ofcom, in deregulation.
"This is an instance where competition was not needed and is not helpful. "
"Yet Oftel almost had a blind faith that competition was always good and jumped in feet first."
"The general public has lost out. Most of us are paying more and do not appear to be getting a better service."
The problem was not so much with Oftel as a whole but with the economists who worked for Oftel who used models that were so simplistic (in particular missing indirect costs and benefits such as simplicity and belief in the good intentions of a service) that they couldn't even see that competition was not necessarily a good thing for consumers.
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