Long Distance Blues

000504_directory assistance
It's become a real roll of the dice to call long distance information, reports CBS News Correspondent Jerry Bowen.

Ask for a listing for the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., and see what turns up:

Operator: All that comes up is Allied Capitol.
Caller: Allied Capitol. Hmm. I'm not sure that's the one.

Friends, families, entire communities, not to mention Capitol buildings, are missing.

Operator: I have Capitol Accounting, Capitol Advisors...

And it doesn't matter which service you call, say analysts. Chances are one in four the operator can't find the number or the number they give is wrong.

Operator: What listing please?
Caller: For the Federal Communications Commission.

Receptionist: Good afternoon, this is the FCBA.
Caller: Uh, I'm sorry, the FCBA?
Receptionist: Yes.
Caller: What does that stand for?
Receptionist: Federal Communications Bar Association.

Part of the problem is that long distance information operators usually don't live in the area you're trying to reach. Take Las Vegas, for example, a town where everything is a gamble, even a call to directory assistance.

Operator: What listing?
Caller: The Mayor's Office. How's the weather in New York today?
Operator: Actually I'm in Las Vegas. We do national directory now.

At a dollar or more per call, there's so much money to be made that local companies have jumped into the long distance business. But they're only as good as their computer database.

Operator: It's given me all the mayors' offices but it doesn't tell me the one that's in New York City.

It took a supervisor to finally locate Mayor Rudy Giuliani's office.

Then we really went far afield by trying to get the number for the Funny Moose in Alaska.

The Florida-based operator at 555-1212 tried but couldn't find the Funny Moose Fishing Lodge, even though it's listed in the local Alaska directory. And the 411 service in Las Vegas wasn't any better.

There is an alternative: the Internet. The good news is, it's free. The bad news is most of the sites are run by the same phone companies that give you a one-in-four chance of this:

Caller: Actually I need a number for the Capitol.
Operator: I'm not showing anything.
Caller: We still have one, right?
Operator: I'm not showing anything.