National phone directory lets fingers do the (computer) scrolling


Like to find that star salesperson you let get away and who could sure help your business now? Or an old flame? A deadbeat? A crucial lawsuit witness?

Well, you may not need a private detective or a million bucks worth of calls to 1-AREA CODE-555-1212 to make that connection.

Instead, just use a national telephone book.

You can buy one for as little as $129.

That's right. $129.

To use it you'll need an IBM-type personal computer and you'll have to buy a $199 CD-ROM disk drive. And this electronic white pages doesn't come with a lot of the sophisticated features that push the price of competing electronic directories -- including some that allow the user to dial directly into phone company data banks -- to $50,000 and more.

But on three silvery disks you will get about 70 million residential phone numbers and 7 million business phone numbers -- more than 80 percent of the listed telephone numbers in America. Bound phone books with that many numbers would fill an entire room.

For people weary of the frustrations of long distance directory assistance, these new electronic telephone books can be a godsend.

No more having to know exactly which little town someone lives in to get his or her number, or being told there are six people with the same name and you can only have two per call.

Even the most basic electronic white pages have search capabilities that far outstrip what AT&T; gives you for a 70-cent call to directory assistance.

The cheapest directory, the PhoneDisc USA, runs on a personal computer and will search for any first and last name combination by area code, ZIP code, street, city or state.

That directory, made by Digital Directory Assistance of Bethesda, Md., is sold only through the DAK mail-order catalog.

Another version of PhoneDisc USA, with better search capabilities and updates every 90 days, is available for $1,850 a year directly from Digital Directory Assistance.

But the licensing agreement limits it to one computer and one user at a time, and will not allow the user to take more than 50 names per month for mailing list purposes. Mailing list versions -- which cost more -- are also available from Digital Directory Assistance.

Nynex, the phone company that serves New York state and New England, sells a $50,000 system called FAST TRACK that allows companies with huge mailing lists to compare, correct and update them automatically in a matter of hours, as well as

search for individual listings. But the licensing agreement prohibits using the system to create mailing lists.

The most sophisticated and up-to-date system is AT&T;'s Find America, which lets companies that make 7,000 or more long distance directory calls per month connect directly to the computerized listings of Bell operating companies everywhere in the country except Nevada. Nevada will be available soon, AT&T; said.

AT&T; places no restrictions on how purchasers use its Find America, a spokesman said.

"Electronic directories are starting up like crazy," said Russell Perkins, publisher of the Morgan Report on Directory Publishing, a Philadelphia newsletter.

He said long distance directory assistance, which costs 70 cents per call on AT&T; and 64 cents on MCI and Sprint, brings in several billion dollars annually for the long distance companies.

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