TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: The 411 on Directory Assistance

The 411 on Directory Assistance

Monty Solomon (
Fri, 10 Mar 2006 04:18:15 -0500

The New York Times
March 9, 2006

Calling 411 for directory assistance can be maddeningly expensive.
Carriers like Sprint and Verizon charge more than $1 and sometimes as
much as $2 a call from a cellphone..

And much of that is profit. Directory assistance "truly is a cash
cow," said Saroja Girishankar, a vice president at the Pelorus Group,
a telecommunications market research firm based in Raritan, N.J. She
and other industry analysts said that the carriers paid wholesalers --
who actually provide the 411 service -- from 25 to 50 cents a call.

Naturally, the wireless carriers and directory assistance companies
want to keep the cash cow in their barn. But increasingly, customers
have access to free alternatives to 411. And as cellphones become more
sophisticated, the options for avoiding paid directory assistance are

Already, two new services -- 800-FREE-411 and 800-411-METRO -- offer
directory assistance free of charge, though users have to listen to

Other companies, including Google, offer free directory assistance via
text message. Soon, voice-activated search engines may make it
possible to bypass directory assistance entirely. One contender, the
Maestro system, a voice-activated search engine being developed at
Ben-Gurion University in Israel, will allow users to surf the Web just
by speaking and listening.

To keep users calling their paid 411 services, the major wireless
carriers have added features like horoscopes, sports scores and stock
prices. As cellular bandwidth increases, those offerings will go from
voice to text to multimedia, said Tom Moran, executive director of
product management and development for Verizon LiveSource.
(LiveSource, owned by Verizon Communications, handles about 1 billion
411 calls a year for customers not only of Verizon Wireless, but of
T-Mobile, Cingular and Alltel.)

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: I do not understand why people and
companies keep insisting on paying _obscenely high_ rates for DA when
there are so many alternatives to xxx-555-1212 and 411. The Directory
Assistance service this Digest recommends -- mainly because I do make
a wee bit of profit on it -- is 877-EASY-411. The charge is all of
*65 cents* for one or two inquiries, and it is billed your credit card
more or less monthly. (The inquiries for the month accumulated). 65
cents per inquiry (or two) still makes money for the people who
operate the program and five or six cents for the Digest. So imagine,
if you will, the $1.25 to $2.00 per call charged by Verizon, AT&T,
SBC, Cingular Wireless and others, to picture the rip offs in this

Now just as Divestiture allowed for '1010 calling' the '00' operator
and the default long distance 1+ carriers to be chosen by consumers,
it also allowed for '411' to be a consumer choice; but _just try_ to
get your telco to agree to send _your_ 411 traffic to the bureau of
your choice. They will not do it! They may, someday, if/when lawsuits
force them to comply with this provision, but until then, telco
continues to control the destiny of '411' itself; telco's own choice
of overpriced bureau, etc. People who do not like it, have to work
around it, just like years ago when we had to dial 950-whatever to
use MCI/Sprint. The service which sponosors the Digest is one such
example: You have to dial 1-877-327-9411, or 877-EASY-411.

Some users have built that into speed dial buttons on their phones.
Other users have added 'intercept boxes' (such as what Sandman offers)
to listen on line for '411' and on hearing it, to drop the connection
and immediatly dial 1-877-327-9411, at _65 cents per call_.

How do they know who to bill? Well, you enroll for the service by
going to to sign up. You provide up
to five numbers you would ordinarily use to call Directry
Assistance. You also provide it with the credit card number you wish
to have billed at monthly more or less intervals. When one of those
(up to five) phone lines dials into 877-327-9411 the 'caller ID' (or
ANI) captured is recorded and you are put straight through to the
_live, real-time_ directory assistance bureau and a live operator
answers. No need for PINS, little or no chance of cheating on your
credit card since presumably you control the (up to five) phone lines
used. Maybe one or two for your office, one or two for your home
numbers, one for your cell phone, etc. No need to 'login in', no need
for 'passwords' etc. Just dial 877-327-9411 and pass your request when
the operator answers. The ANI generated takes care of it all, and
about once per month (because it is very unrealistic and impractical
to submit a credit card charge for 65 cents each time an inquiry is
made) they are all batched up and charged to your card. For your
protection against abuse by others in your office, I think they will
set monthly 'credit cut-off levels' if you ask, and they do provide a
print out of your inquiries a few days before the credit card charge
is put through if you request it. There is NO fee to sign up, NO
monthly minimum usage, none of that stuff. Just 65 cents for one or
two inquiries.

If your computer has speakers/sound card you can hear a sample call to
EASY411 on their web site. Consider using EASY411 as your directory
assistance provider please. It is real time, as up to date as all such
bureaus are (within a day or two?), and you will be helping this Digest. PAT]

Post Followup Article Use your browser's quoting feature to quote article into reply
Go to Next message: Neal McLain: "House Panel Leaders OK National Cable Franchise"
Go to Previous message: Monty Solomon: "Amazon Considering Downloads"
Next in thread: Steven Lichter: "Re: The 411 on Directory Assistance"
May be reply: Steven Lichter: "Re: The 411 on Directory Assistance"
May be reply: Steve Sobol: "Re: The 411 on Directory Assistance"
May be reply: Lou Jahn: "Re: The 411 on Directory Assistance"
May be reply: "Re: The 411 on Directory Assistance"
TELECOM Digest: Home Page