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Wireless 411 Directory

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Overview Edit

Many cell phone subscribers are strongly opposed to having their information listed in a wireless 411 directory. Such a directory does not currently exist, but CTIA — The Wireless Association, began developing one in 2004 for six of the seven largest mobile service providers.[1] One estimate is that a wireless directory could generate as much as $3 billion a year for the wireless industry by 2009 in fees and additional minutes.[2] Qsent is the “aggregator” for the directory service.[3]

In early 2005, some of the companies backing the directory project announced changes in their plans. Sprint and ALLTEL were the first to indicate that they would delay offering such a service until the regulatory climate stabilized. Some cited a new California law that requires carriers to obtain separate authorization from subscribers before including them in the directory as an example of the evolving regulatory climate. A number of other states have considered similar legislation. By the end of April 2005, T-Mobile reportedly was the only major carrier still planning to offer directory services, pledging to do so on an opt-in basis.[4]

A key difference between wireless and wireline phones is that subscribers must pay for incoming as well as outgoing calls. Thus, some argue that subscribers need to be assured that they will not receive unwanted calls, not only because of a nuisance factor, but for cost reasons. Consumers may list their cell phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry,[5] but concerns persist about unwanted calls from telemarketers or others.

Questions that have arisen include whether subscribers should be able to decline to have their numbers published without paying a fee (as wireline customers must do if they want an unlisted number). Proponents of the directory insist that customers would have to consent to having their numbers listed. Opponents counter that many subscribers do not realize that they already have given consent through the contract they sign with their service provider.[6] Other critics point out that wireless subscribers pay for every call, and view their cell phones as distinctly private.

From the beginning, one of the largest mobile service providers, Verizon Wireless, decided not to participate in the directory. The company's President and CEO, Denny Strigl, argued against the notion of an "opt-in" directory, where subscribers would have to give their express prior authorization to being listed, saying that "Customers see opt-in as a disingenuous foot-in-the-door — leading to 'opt-out' clauses and fees for not publishing a number. Nor does opt-in allow customers any degree of control over how and to whom their information is revealed — they either keep full privacy or face full exposure, with nothing in-between."[7]

In September 2004, hearings were held by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and by the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. At the 2004 Senate hearing, CTIA testified that there is no need for legislation because the directory does not yet exist so it is premature to pass legislation now, the wireless industry has a proven track record in protecting consumer privacy, and subscribers would not be forced to participate in the directory nor charged a fee for opting-out. Mr. Strigl from Verizon Wireless repeated his strong opposition to the directory, but agreed that legislation is not necessary. Some opponents of the legislation point to Verizon Wireless's decision not to participate in the directory as indicative of a market-based solution to the problem, since subscribers wishing not to be listed could switch to Verizon Wireless.

Advocates of the legislation at the 2004 House hearing countered that, for example, the wireless industry's track record is less than perfect. According to one report,[8] Representative Pitts stated that when he first discussed a wireless directory with industry representatives two years earlier, they insisted that opt-in was impossible, and they would need to charge for the service. Yet now, he noted, the industry is asserting that the system would be opt-in and free.

Representative Markey commented that the fact that the carriers informed consumers that their numbers might become listed in a wireless directory only in the fine print of their service contracts made some observers suspicious of their intentions. Senator Boxer testified at the House hearing, noting that cell phones are quite different from home phones because people take them wherever they go, so unwanted calls are even more intrusive. She emphasized the need to allow parents to control whether their children's numbers are listed, and the need to act quickly, before the directory comes into existence. Witnesses from EPIC and the AARP testified in favor of legislation at the Senate hearing.

References Edit

  1. ALLTEL, Cingular Wireless, AT&T Wireless, Nextel, Sprint, and T-Mobile participated in this process (Sprint and Nextel subsequently merged). The seventh carrier, Verizon Wireless, declined to participate.
  2. Jube Shiver. Jr. Coming Soon: A Cellphone Directory, L.A. Times, May 20, 2004, at A1, citing a study by the Zelos Group Inc.
  3. See Qsent full-text).
  4. Jon Van, Calls for Wireless 411 Are Fading Out, Chicago Trib., Apr. 30, 2005, at 1.
  5. See Do Not Call website (full-text).
  6. At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on September 21, 2004, Kathleen Pierz of The Pierz Group testified that nearly all mobile subscribers, except Cingular Wireless customers, have already signed a contract that includes their express permission to have their mobile number listed in any type of directory the carrier chooses.
  7. "Verizon Wireless CEO Calls for Preserving Customer Privacy and Open Competition at Yankee Group Wireless Summit,"Verizon Wireless Press Release, June 21, 2004 (full-text)]
  8. Carriers Promise Congress Wireless 411 Will Protect Privacy, Communications Daily, Sept. 30, 2004, at 2.

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