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BT is to lose its near-monopoly for providing directory enquiry services telecoms regulator, Oftel, confirmed today.

The Winged Watchdog said the move would promote greater innovation, lower prices and an improved quality of service than is currently being provided in the UK.

It made its decision to deregulate the market after it found that British punters were not benefiting from the same range of services and competition as consumers in other European countries.

When the market is deregulated next year consumers will need to call a new five digit number beginning with 118 which will replace the existing 192 service.

BT's current service costs 40p a throw.

Said head boy of Oftel, David Edmonds: "Consumers in many European countries have access to up to ten
different directory enquiry services, offering a wide range of services with competition on price and quality of service. The UK's antiquated arrangements deny consumers that choice.

"Our research shows that consumers are increasingly unhappy with the cost of these services," he said.

Within minutes of Oftel's announcement a German directories operation said it intended to launch a service by Spring next year.

Telegate - which is listed on the Frankfurt Neuer Markt stock exchange - said it aims to handle one in five of the 700 million UK number enquiries made each year.

Its first call centre will be opened in Dumfries, Scotland, where it will create 400 jobs. The company is already holding trials for wholesale clients, it said.

Dr Klaus Harisch, CEO of telegate AG, said: "Telegate is dedicated to shaking up the UK directory enquiries market. In a monopoly environment, standards of service are inevitably low."

Among Telegate's initiatives are plans to deliver numbers by phone, fax, email and SMS. It also intends to route callers directly to the number they have requested without forcing people to redial.

A spokesman for BT said monster telco fully supported Oftel's decision but said that it did raise some concerns.

"There are a lot of complicated technical issues that need to be resolved," he said.

He also feared that consumers might get confused by the new longer numbers and different operators.

That's right, because getting hold of BT is just soooooo simple. The operator's on 100, directory enquiries is on 192 and international directories is 153. If you want to report a fault with a public payphone then it's 0800 800 151. But, if the fault is with a Contour Payphone (but not a Cardpay model), or a Payphone 90 or 190, then you need to call 0800 252541. Faults concerning all other payphones - including the Contour Cardpay - should be directed to 0800 800 154.

If all that is simply too "confusing" then punters should ring the Customer Service Manager on 0800 661 610, although that only applies Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5pm. Otherwise, send a fax on...

Get the point? ®

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