telco services opposite Internet services

For about two months, Verizon has been telling callers to its weather information number (202 936-1212) that, beginning June 1, 2011, Verizon will no longer offer time of day and weather services.  Just before this message began being announced, Verizon’s weather information service simply stopped for a day or two.  Currently Verizon weather spokespersons state twice that the service is being discontinued before going on to read the weather forecast.  My sense, merely as an attentive, record-keeping Verizon residential customer, is that Verizon wants to make sure that its customers who call its weather information number clearly understand that Verizon is discontinuing that service.

My Verizon bill dated May 6, 2011, states that Verizon is reducing my local directory assistance call allowance.  Here’s the specific bill language:

Effective June 4, 2011, the directly dialed Local Directory Assistance call allowance will change from 2 calls per monthly billing period to 1 call.  For each call above the 1 call allowance, you will be billed $0.95.  With each call to Directory Assistance you can request 2 listings.

In the mid-1970, local telephone companies’ directory assistance call allowances were typically 5 calls.  Additional calls cost 10 or 20 cents per call.  Since the mid-1970s, directory assistance call allowances have shrunk and directory assistance call prices, in inflation-adjusted terms, have risen by a factor of two or three.

Internet-oriented companies seek to provide a variety of information services.  Internet-oriented companies have embraced free services and fremium business models.  Internet-oriented companies have generated considerable value by providing free services.  Free services enable them to gather information about customers interests and needs.  With that information, the company can target to those customers advertisements for paid products that addressing the customer’s specific interests and needs.

Verizon’s discontinuing time of day and weather services and reducing directory assistance allowances are unlike what most Internet service companies are doing.  Time of day and weather voice information lines, in particular, should have very low cost to a local telephone company.  Those information services should provide valuable information about customers’ interests and behavior patterns.  Why Verizon is moving away from such businesses isn’t clear.

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