Chapter closing for the phone book?

SINGAPORE - The Government is reviewing the need for a free telephone book after the passing of Singapore's data protection Bill in Parliament on Oct 15.

With data privacy a major issue, the free listing of fixed-line subscribers' phone numbers and addresses in phone books, on CDs and online is under renewed scrutiny.

The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) is now proposing that telcos no longer need to publish telephone directories - in physical media or in electronic form.

Over the past decade, the use of printed directories has waned. Last year, only 165,000 phone directories in print and CD form were collected, said IDA on its website last Thursday. This represents only about 8 per cent of the two million fixed-line subscribers.

The Government is also considering whether to amend two-decade-old licensing rules imposed on SingTel, StarHub and M1, as the rules may be in conflict with a key feature of the new law - a national Do-Not-Call registry which lets people opt out of marketing messages and calls.

Under the licensing rules, telcos have to produce free directories and CDs that list local fixed-line numbers starting with "6". Their contractor, Global Yellow Pages, prints and distributes the database.

Telcos also have to maintain the "100" hotline so the public can ask for phone numbers of businesses and individuals listed in the directory. The service costs 64 cents per number requested.

IDA has proposed that telcos will have to maintain the "100" service - which is still in demand - with fees that will continue to be regulated.

The regulator said that a "sizeable" 1.3 million calls were made to the hotline last year, although demand has fallen over the years.

IDA explained that it would not be easy to mine personal data by calling the hotline, as those making inquiries would need to know the identity of those whose information they seek, while also paying a fee for the information.

IDA has invited public feedback on whether the free phone book and hotline services - introduced at a time when fixed-line telephony was the main mode of telecommunication - are still relevant. Then, it was hard to search for a phone number without Internet access or cellphones which let users store contact numbers.

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