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Reaching Out With an Electronic Touch : Telephones: Businesses can now access up-to-date computerized white pages listings--for a hefty fee.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Telephone companies are making it easier for the government and big businesses--including the IRS and credit agencies--to reach out and touch someone, thanks to computerized phone directories.

For a hefty fee, large-volume users of white pages directories may tie their computers into phone company computer banks. Then they can enter a name, city and state and get an up-to-date address, ZIP code and phone number.

If users have only a name and no city or state, they most likely will get multiple listings--about 10 names at a time on their computer screens. The customer pays for each screen of material that is displayed, plus monthly connection charges, passwords and long-distance charges, if any.

The phone companies are prohibited by a federal consent decree from providing anything more than a person could find in a printed white pages directory. That means no electronic Yellow Pages, no special groupings by regions, addresses or phone numbers. That also means no unpublished or unlisted numbers.

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But Beverly Hollifield, a product manager for BellSouth Services, said computerized white pages should be useful for “credit verification, possibly government organizations--the IRS,” or to companies that make mass mailings and need to verify addresses.

The service began in Southwestern Bell Telephone’s five-state territory in June and now is being adopted by other regional Bell phone companies.

American Telephone & Telegraph Co. is providing nationwide access to the regional services, meaning a caller in New York may electronically find listings in Texas, for example. AT&T; expects to be able to offer its service to 80% of the country by spring 1991.

The advantages of such a service is speed--meaning time and money saved. And the listings are updated daily, making them as effective as traditional operator assistance and more reliable than most white pages directories.

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“It’s targeted at customers that really use quite a bit of directory assistance--banking, telemarketing, insurance, credit collections,” said Ellen Zundl, an AT&T; spokeswoman.

“If you run the kind of operation that deals with, let’s say, 20,000 listing requests a month or more, this really saves you a lot of time,” Zundl added.

She said the AT&T; Find America service takes just 3.6 seconds per listing on average, contrasted with an average 36 seconds through a long-distance directory assistance operator.

Southwestern Bell expects that its service will generate about $1 million in revenue in 1991, said Dean Jeffries, the company’s product manager. That’s small change for a company that had nearly $9 billion in revenue last year.

“It did get off to a slow start,” Jeffries said of the DirectLine Custom Service, but the growth has been much as expected. The service now has “four solid customers and the demand is starting to pick up,” Jeffries said.

One company, US West Communications, is offering local listings to residential users of the Community Link video-text service in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Omaha, Neb. The service will be expanded to Minneapolis next year, said Tom Lee, a US West spokesman.

But the cost probably will make this a business-only service for the foreseeable future.

Subscribers to US West’s Electronic White Pages Access Service, which began in the company’s 14-state region last month, must pay a $243 start-up fee, a $163 monthly charge, $8.50 for each identification number needed to reach the service and 14.63 cents for each screen of numbers viewed.

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The user also must pay any long-distance charges accrued while connecting with US West computers.


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