House OKs 5-call limit on free 411 service Additional requests for help would cost 25 cents apiece.

March 19, 1992|By David Conn | David Conn,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS UZB — ANNAPOLIS -- Look it up. That's the message from the House of Delegates as it turned away from such lofty issues as environmental protection and taxes yesterday and focused on a fundamental individual liberty: the right to dial 411.

By a vote of 98-34, the House agreed to further limit the number of free directory assistance phone calls each customer is allowed per month, reducing it to five from the current 12. Any "information" calls beyond five would cost 25 cents apiece.

The trade-off Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. offered is an agreement to lower its basic rates by the amount it makes from the more restrictive 411 policy. Phone company estimates are that the monthly bill will drop by 18 or 19 cents.

The legislation was a strike at the "freeloaders" who use 411 instead of turning to the phone book, according to House Bill 1292's supporters, including C&P.

Those who make few directory assistance calls each month should not have to subsidize those who go hog wild on 411, the bill's supporters argued. They said Maryland allows more free information calls each month than just about any other state.

"We pay for the service for those who abuse the service and are too lazy to go find the phone book," said Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, a Baltimore County Republican.

"Telephone books cost a lot of money, they use up a lot of trees," pointed out Del. W. Ray Huff, D-Anne Arundel. "Let's use 'em!"

But that comment opened a whole can of worms, in legislative parlance. "The phone book is really a piece of garbage," offered Del. Theodore Levin, D-Baltimore Co.

"The phone book is difficult to read and [directory assistance] is not that great of a cost to the phone company," he said.

For those who find it difficult to use the phone book, such as the vision- or reading-impaired, the bill authorizes C&P to waive the five-call restriction, said Del. Anne S. Perkins, D-Baltimore, the chairman of the Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee that passed the bill last week.

The Office of the People's Counsel is in favor of the bill "as long as the revenues that they derive from reducing the number of [directory assistance] calls gets allocated to reducing the basic rates," said Assistant People's Counsel Frederick H. Hoover.

The Senate Finance Committee yesterday passed a similar bill.

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