DQ liberalisation not good for punters

Ofcom should ring the changes

Former telecoms regulator Oftel made a hash of deregulating the UK's directory enquiries (DQ) service, the National Audit Office has found. Eighteen months after BT's 192 service was scrapped and the market opened up to competition consumers are paying more for a service they're using less.

One senior MP has questioned whether Oftel was right to open up the sector in the first place while another industry figure has called for the return of the old 192 service.

For while punters have the choice of using scores of DQ operators, two companies - BT (118 500) and The Number (118 118) - dominate the sector with 80 per cent market share.

In a critical report, the National Audit Office (NAO) said: "A small minority of residential callers use directory enquiries frequently, but the average residential caller uses the services less than once per month. The average caller is unlikely to be motivated to find the lowest price so the market is not driven by price competition."

What's more, Oftel's successor Ofcom "cannot yet demonstrate that, overall, consumers have benefited from liberalisation", said the report.

It continued: "Most residential consumers are paying more for directory enquiry services while the absence of reliable accuracy data on the previous services means that it is not possible to show whether accuracy has improved."

With such a damning report people have been queuing up to have their say.

Edward Leigh MP, the chairman of the Commons public accounts committee, said: "Ignoring the wisdom of the phrase, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it', Oftel have made an unpopular and unnecessary change. Just because competition generally brings great benefits does not mean it always works. This is an instance where competition was not needed and is not helpful."

Alastair Crawford, boss of online information outfit 192.com said that the increased competition has led to worse service and increased prices.

"It is clear that consumers want 192 back and Ofcom should give it back." ®

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