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Commission to blame for new 118 enquiry number

November 16th, 2003

Who called up 118?
Six weeks ago, amid the shambles over the new 118 directory enquiry services, I asked why no one had pointed out that this was brought about under an EU directive.  Sir Richard Storey, who has occupied many senior positions in newspaper publishing, sent a copy of my article to the relevant minister, Stephen Timms, asking for his comments. As is the way with modern ministers, Mr Timms sent it on to the telecoms regulator, Oftel, for a reply.  The response from Rachel Francis of Oftel said that my article had been “factually inaccurate”.
(Sunday Telegraph, 16 November 2003, page 14, Christopher Booker’s Notebook)

We chose 118
The decision to use the prefix 118 for directory enquiries was taken by the Government.  No directive or regulation at EU level demands Britain adopt 118.(Sunday Telegraph, 23 November 2003, letters page – letter from Jim Dougal, head of European Commission Representation in the UK)

The EU’s number of choice
On our letters page last week, Jim Dougal, the European Commission’s man in London, wrote, on the directory enquiries shambles, that no “directive or regulation at EU level demands Britain adopt 118”. He couldn’t be more wrong. COM (96) 590 “Towards a New European Numbering Environment” proposed 118 as a standard number for EU directory services and, without the subsequent directives 2002/21 and 2002/77, this shambles would never have arisen.
(Sunday Telegraph, 30 November 2003, page 14, Christopher Booker’s Notebook)

Oh no we didn’t
It is Christopher Booker, not me, who “couldn’t be more wrong” when he asserts that EU legislation has forced Britain to adopt the number 118 for directory enquiries. The document referred to by Mr Booker to support his case – COM (96) 590 – is neither a piece of legislation nor a regulation. It simply reiterates the Commission’s support for a common number for directory enquiries, which will make it easier for people who go on holiday in Europe to find a number.
(Sunday Telegraph, 7 December 2003, letters page – letter from Jim Dougal, head of European Commission Representation in the UK)

Christopher Booker really got his wires crossed on this occasion.   How many people know, when abroad, what the number is for directory enquiries? For this reason the European Commission fully supports making directory enquiry services more accessible and competitive, and supports such initiatives in the field of other commonly-used services across the EU.
The Commission is in favour of a common number, but the UK was not forced to adopt the 118 directory enquiries prefix as a result of EU law.    Indeed, the 118 prefix was originally mooted by the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT)  for common pan-European use as far back as the early 1970s (the common European emergency number 112 also came from CEPT).    The Commission has not foisted 118 upon anyone.
A further point is that directory enquiry services tend to be national by nature, and as such cannot be accessed from abroad.  A more open EU directory enquiries market available to all businesses and individuals across the EU can surely only be of benefit to telephone users. If a UK business wants to get hold of the number of a company in, for example, Germany or Italy, having the facility to do so quickly and cheaply should be a boon.

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Please note that all statements in all entries were correct on the date of publication given. However, older archived posts are not systematically updated in the light of later developments, for example changes to EU law.

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