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The Wireless Industry and the 411

By Yuki Noguchi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 7, 2004; Page E01

Darlene Mickey is among a minority of cell phone users: She actually wants her wireless number listed with directory assistance.

"I live by my cell phone," said Mickey, an Arlington real estate agent who takes most of her calls from her car. "It's my lifeline for my business. I'd like my clients to be able to find me."

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Almost 90 percent of the 160 million U.S. cell phone consumers have another opinion. They don't want their numbers listed, according to a survey by a market research firm. Nonetheless, the cell phone industry plans to launch a database to list numbers at customers' request.

Within the next few months, most customers will be asked by their carriers whether they want to be included in such a database of numbers and addresses. New customers will be asked when they sign up for service. Established customers can expect a form in the mail.

The directory service is scheduled to begin early next year. It would allow people to call directory assistance services such as 411 or 555-1212 to get cell phone numbers, along with wire-line phone numbers.

Consumer groups say that such a directory would open a door to unwanted marketing and other harassing calls that not only would hassle cell phone users but also cost them valuable minutes for incoming calls.

Members of Congress are considering bills to regulate the collection of cell phone information. And the chief executive of the nation's largest provider of wireless communications, Verizon Wireless, derided the directory assistance plan as a "dumb idea."

Verizon Wireless and the smaller U.S. Cellular have decided not to participate. Their customers won't be able to list their numbers through the new service, even if they want to.

"There's more reason today than ever for the wireless industry to protect customers' privacy," Verizon Wireless chief executive Denny Strigl said in a June speech, explaining the company's break from the rest of the industry. "The floodgates are open on spam, viruses, telemarketers . . . Customers view their cell phones as one place they don't face these intrusions."

Verizon Wireless's stand was a blow to the directory assistance effort.

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