January 24, 2005
Cell phone directory still a no-go

For the foreseeable future, there still won't be a comprehensive directory of cell phone numbers.

Nearly half of the 175 million cell phone users in the United States will not have a chance to sign up for the directory when it is unveiled later this year because they use one of three major carriers that have chosen not to participate.

Among them are Sprint and Alltel, which backed away from the project for at least this year because of bad publicity over the directory and possible regulations that could make the service less profitable. Verizon from the onset said it would not participate because it felt consumer privacy needs could not be guaranteed.

"With Sprint, Alltel and Verizon out, the power of the tool is greatly diminished," said Julie Ask, an industry analyst with Jupiter Research.


Analysts believe the wireless industry itself should be faulted for coming up short. They say it should have anticipated consumer concerns and been aggressive about countering them through advertising or public relations.

The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, which spearheaded the directory, is taking the brunt of such criticism.

"The CTIA did a bad job of PR, quite frankly," said Michele Pierz of the Pierz Group, a consulting firm that analyzes directory assistance and has done consumer studies on the wireless directory.

As an example, Pierz points to a mad rush by cell phone users to register their numbers on a federal no-call list aimed at preventing calls from telemarketers.

Bogus e-mails circulating around the country last month incorrectly told wireless consumers that inclusion in the directory would mean telemarketers would have access to their numbers.

Millions of wireless consumers responded by registering their cell phones on the national do-not-call registry.

Telemarketers, by law, are not allowed to call cell phones.


A Pierz Group study published in August illustrates the confusion, Pierz said.

Only 10 percent of the wireless consumers polled in Pierz's survey said they would want their phone listed in the directory when no privacy measures were clearly explained to them.

But once consumers understood the service, they overwhelmingly favored it.

She said consumers were especially attracted to any directory service offering technologies that carriers have successfully tested but are not yet including.

"If you gave people a choice of different privacy protections, 74 percent said they would list their cell phone numbers," Pierz said.

I'm not so worried about the privacy issues here. As long as telemarketers are forbidden to call my cellphone, I'm happy. I'm not sure how much I personally would use this service, but it sure seems like this kind of directory will be really needed real soon now. Guess I'll keep programming the numbers I need into my own cell for the time being.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 24, 2005 to Technology, science, and math | TrackBack