YellowPages.com Rumored to Buy Free DA Provider

YellowPages.com, the joint venture between AT&T Yellow Pages and BellSouth Intelliventures, appears poised to shake up the world of directory assistance by picking up inFreeDA, the provider of 1-800-411-METRO. InFreeDA Founder and CEO Michael Loftus, who spoke at Kelsey’s ILM conference last week in Philadelphia, had no comment on the rumors. But several Web links from his company now lead to YellowPages.com.

Loftus did confirm, however, that his company has been in financial straits since it was unsuccessful in winning new financing from its prime backer, Hummer Winblad. “They only pick two of 10 investments” for continued support, he said. “And we were not among them.”

If the rumors pan out, YellowPages.com is joining a free DA industry that is likely to cannibalize existing DA revenues, which pull in $8 billion. But it is also projected to triple its existing usage. According to Jingle Networks CEO George Garrick, free DA currently makes up 3 percent of the DA calls made today, and is on pace to serve 130 million calls this year. In 2007, Garrick projects that 300 million free DA calls will be made, giving it roughly 10 percent of total DA usage.

Garrick opined that the marketplace can only grow. The company’s surveys show that “85 percent don’t know that free DA exists,” he said. But once users see that it works, they’re hooked. “Fifty percent come back within three days, and become regular users. Someone who calls ‘411’ one time a month will call our services three or four times a month,” he said. Seventy percent of current usage is from mobile users, he added.

As a conference stunt, Garrick distributed placards with a dollar bill and a quarter glued to each one  a colorful reminder that free DA saves consumers the average $1.25 cost of DA calls today.

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