A couple of weeks ago I was back at City Universityâ€™s Centre for Competition and Regulatory Policy for their winter workshop to present a new paper. Entitled Changing the Numbers: UK Directory Enquiries Deregulation and the Failure of Choice it looked at what happened when the UK deregulated its directory enquiries market in the early 2000s. From the abstract:
In 2003, the UK `liberalised’ its telephone directory enquiries service with the aim of introducing competition so as to improve quality and lower costs. Unfortunately the results did not match expectations. Proliferation of numbers led to consumer confusion and high price firms with no discernible quality advantages but which employed heavy advertising came to dominate the market. Consumer and total welfare appear to have declined. This example raises important questions for regulators. In particular, with limits on information and rationality, it may sometimes be better to limit choice but increase competition to supply that choice.