BT unveils multimedia directory plans

The telco even has its eye on your banking details, if a new service offering classified listings, weather forecasts, sports scores and cinema listings is a success

BT plans to launch a multimedia directory inquiries service in the UK that could eventually see the telco storing customers' personal details online, the company said on Tuesday.

Billed by BT as a "one-stop information service", the new operation will be accessible via the Internet as well as by telephone, and expands on BT's existing directory inquiries service.

Called BT Directories, it will include classified listings that UK companies can pay to be included in. Users will also be able to obtain weather forecasts, sports scores, share prices and cinema listings, at prices "considerably less than many current premium rate services," according to BT.

BT current directory inquiries service is accessed by dialling 192. BT Directories will use the less memorable 118 500, but 192 will continue to work for another 12 months.

This move back into the classified listings business will put BT into competition with Yell, which it sold last year for over £2bn. The telco subsequently bought the UK assets of for £8m in June.

According to BT, the acquisition of Scoot has given it the search engines and databases it needs to offer classified listings again.

BT is aiming to start running its new directories service from the end of this year, and hopes it will generate annual revenues of £100m by 2004.

"Today's announcement proves BT's commitment to giving our customers the best service -- providing instant and easy access to a wealth of information via phone, Internet or paper directories," claimed Pierre Danon, chief executive of BT Retail.

Oftel recently decided to deregulate the UK's directory inquiries market, throwing BT's 192 service open to competition from next year.

Competition should mean lower prices, but BT has only said that it doesn't expect the current cost of a call to directory inquiries to go higher in the future. "The UK already has the second cheapest directory inquiries market in Europe, second only to Ireland," said Danon, speaking on Radio5 on Tuesday morning.

BT has said that its long-term strategy for its directories business includes a possible option for customers to store their personal information -- such as telephone numbers and addresses of family and friends and even bank details -- with BT.

Given that BT recently published the private network dial-up numbers of an unknown number of companies on the Internet, some people might be reluctant to hand over their banking and credit card details to the telco.

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