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 June 13, 2003
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The 411 on Directory Assistance
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Here's the 411 on directory assistance: it's expensive, so use it with caution.

A study by the non-profit Telecommunications Research and Action Center (TRAC) in Washington D.C. found that rates to obtain phone numbers from directory assistance have climbed dramatically in less than a year.

Since June of 2000, for example, Atlanta's rate jumped from 85 cents to $1.80 per call, Dallas saw an increase from 30 cents to 75 cents, and Denver's rates climbed from 40 cents to $1.25.

Karen Walls, a TRAC staff associate, said it is unclear why prices are rising. Competition, which was supposed to bring prices down, apparently hasn't worked.

The study examined several types of directory assistance:

� Local 411 service: Provided by the local telephone company, this service lists local phone numbers. In some areas, you may receive a certain number of free requests per month.

� National 411 service: Also provided by the local companies, this service will provide you with numbers in other cities around the country. You may have to dial 1-411 for this service.

� 1-area code-555-1212: Provided by local and long distance companies, this service gives you a number in a specific area code. You need to know the area code to use this service, which often costs substantially more than National 411.

� 00 and 10-10 services: When you dial 00, you must use the long distance company prescribed to the phone you are calling from. When you dial a 10-10 number, you are choosing a certain long distance company. Connections from these numbers are often made at the highest rates available.

� 1-800 or 1-888-555-1212: This is a free service provided by long distance companies to give out toll-free 800, 888 or 877 numbers.

The studies found that it's always cheaper to use National 411 than 555-1212.

"For example, in the Los Angeles, California area,(calling National 411) costs the same as local 411 46 cents -- compared to $1.49 to $1.99 for long-distance directory assistance," the report concluded. "Even in areas of the country where the charge is higher (95 cents) Dallas, New York, Seattle and Washington, D.C. National 411 is always cheaper than dialing 1-area code-555-1212."

When using a 00 or 10-10 service, MCI (99 cents) beats AT&T ($1.49) and Sprint ($1.45).

The study also looked at directory assistance for cell phones.

"Consumers are less likely to have a phone number handy when away from home," said TRAC Chairman Samuel A. Simon. "So, they are more likely to just hit 411 on the cell phone to get the number."

All of the cellular companies except Verizon charged 99 cents per call for Local 411 and National 411. Verizon charged 85 cents for a Local 411 call; it requires callers to dial 1-area-code-555-1212 for national directory assistance.

There was a difference, however, in the number of listings a person could receive per call. Sprint offered four listings per call, while AT&T, Verizon, Nextel and Cingular offered only one.

Consumers looking for phone numbers may want to consider these TRAC recommendations:

� Compare prices in your area ahead of time so you know the best option.

� Check the Internet. Many Web sites will help you look up numbers throughout the country. For more information, visit www.trac.org. One of the larger sites that offers free information, www.555-1212.com, recently started limiting the number of searches a user can conduct.

� Call a friend. Sometimes it is cheaper, even if your friend lives in another city, to call him or her and ask for a number you need.

� Invest in a pocket-sized phone directory that will give you most of the numbers you need.

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