Verizon's Maryland residential customers now face a $1.99-a-call charge for directory assistance after the first two free requests to 411 each month, the state Office of People's Counsel warned Thursday.

The free-call limit had been four a month.

The people's counsel, which represents residential customers, said it had successfully fought a decrease in the past when Verizon sought regulatory approval. But a law that went into effect Oct. 1 "was crafted to permit Verizon to do this" and block regulators from stopping it, the people's counsel said in a statement.

Verizon spokeswoman Sandra Arnette said the law change doesn't apply only to Verizon, though the people's counsel says it is the primarily player in Maryland. Arnette added that consumers have alternatives for directory assistance.

"In fact, many people find the information they need online," she said by email.

The people's counsel suggested consumers go verizon.com/whitepages to look up numbers or get a directory sent to them by calling 800-888-8448. Customers with physical or visual disabilities that prevent them from using a directory should call Verizon to get that noted in their record, the agency said, because the company can't charge for 411 calls in those cases.

jhopkins@baltsun.com

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