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Traditional telephone directory may not be printed again

The traditional telephone directory could be ditched and replaced free enquiry calls, similar to the present 118 service.

The Malta Communications Authority is looking into the possibility of stopping the directory after a recent survey showed that the 118 enquiry service is used more than both the printed and online directories.

The MCA commissioned a survey among consumers to gauge the people's attitude towards the directory.

More people use the online directory, 1.5 per cent, on a daily basis, compared to the printed version, 1.3 per cent, and the 118 service, 0.5 per cent.

However, on a monthly basis, more people use the enquiry service, 20.8 per cent; another 15.3 per cent use the printed directory and 8.3 per cent use the online directory.

Since the number of telephone operators increased over the past three years, the MCA launched a consultation process to review and overhaul the whole communications sector.

Almost 60 per cent said they never used the printed directory. About 47 per cent of respondents, mostly people aged between 50 and 64 years, said they either did not use it or referred to it rarely, no more than twice a year. In fact, 15.5 per cent said the printed directory had completely lost its relevance.

The last edition of the directory was printed in 2004. Two years later, Go came up with an online version, which includes all the numbers of mobile and fixed lines that are public.

The MCA believes that a printed directory that includes mobile numbers would be impractical because of the constant shift from one mobile network to another. It suggested including the mobile numbers in the online directory.

However, even use of the online directory was low when compared to the use of the 118, according to the study. Over 67 per cent of all replies and 94 per cent of people aged 65 years and over said they never used the internet service.

As a result, the MCA is looking into the possibility of obliging all operators to provide a number of free calls each week to a similar service.

Almost all of those interviewed for the MCA survey, 82 per cent, agreed with this option. Of these, 54.5 per cent said one free call a week was "reasonable" and 15.4 per cent believe that one call a month was enough. Only 15.4 per cent said that all enquiry calls should be free.

Go's 1182 and 1187 enquiry service receives several thousands of requests on a daily basis, according to a company spokesman. But the company would not release statistics for commercial reasons.

Stopping the printed directory would mostly affect people aged 50 years and over, according to the study. However, providing a number of free calls would be an adequate solution to almost 76 per cent of people aged 50 and over.

Nationalist MP Jean Pierre Farrugia does not agree with the idea. "Elderly people will be the worst to be affected. They don't have access to the internet and the directory is outdated so they spend a lot of money on 118 calls," he said.

Recently, through a parliamentary question, Dr Farrugia called on Communications Minister Austin Gatt to order the printing of an updated edition of the directory because the last one dated back to 2004.

Dr Gatt said that a consultation process would examine the communications sector. Meanwhile, he added, there was always the online directory, which was free and updated.

Dr Farrugia argued there was still a demand for the printed directory. "People still use it. They are spending money on 1182 because the directory is so outdated. Why is it such a hassle to print it," he wondered.

The MCA study also examined the possibility of charging a fee for the directory. Over half, 66 per cent, said they would not buy it and 26 per cent said they would buy it only if it cost less than €5.

Almost 47 per cent believe all subscribers should receive a free copy of the directory and 32 per cent said that at least people with a low income should receive a copy. The MCA is proposing three solutions: providing one printed directory free of charge to all customers, a number of free calls to a 118X service and that the electronic comprehensive directory, covering both fixed and mobile local numbers available on the internet, would remain available.

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