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TellMe The 511 In Utah

In an emergency, dial 911 for help. Want a phone number? Call 411. But if you are looking for directions around the 2002 Olympics, you can now call 511.

Tellme Networks Tuesday launched the first ever voice-activated 511 traveler information line where people can get information on real-time information on traffic, road conditions, public transportation and Olympic event schedules. The 2002 Olympic Winter Games start in February.

"The phone is the ideal medium to make government services available and accessible to the general public," says Tellme Director of Public Sector Operations Greg O'Connell. "511 is a new wave in public information access."

In July 2000, the Federal Communications Commission officially allocated 511 as the single nationwide number for traveler information. Previously, state governments and local transportation agencies used more than 300 local telephone numbers nationwide to provide traffic and traveler information.

This marks the first time one number has been accessible for people to access travel information. Right now, the Utah DOT is providing the Utah 511 travel information line as a free service.

"After evaluating many different solutions to deploy a 511 travel service, it was clear that Tellme scored the highest," says Utah DOT Director of Intelligent Transportation Systems Martin Knopp. "As the national 511 working group has stipulated, voice recognition is the way for callers to access information on 511 and it was important for us to be the first state to provide this capability. In addition, there was no up-front capital costs and we were able to leverage the same information and investment we had made in our Web infrastructure."

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company, which launched just last year, lets clients buy minutes on its carrier-grade telephony infrastructure and VoiceXML platform to run voice applications and services. The service usually accessed through its 1-800-555-TELL consumer voice portal is primarily used for businesses looking to further automate the customer telephone session. Tellme also has a European subsidiary, MagicPhone, based in Brussels, Belgium.

The company says it plans to roll out more 511 services in the Mid-West in the next couple of months. That schedule will be determined by Department of Transportation (DOT) agencies on a state-by-state basis.

BeVocal and Vocal Point Inc. are Bay Area companies also competing in the voice portal space.