updated 11/4/2004 4:31:20 PM ET 2004-11-04T21:31:20

BellSouth Corp. and SBC Communications Inc. are expanding their partnership beyond Cingular Wireless with a joint purchase of YellowPages.com, an Internet-based phone directory service, the companies said Thursday.

Atlanta-based BellSouth and San Antonio-based SBC plan to combine the acquired business with their own online directory affiliates, RealPages.com and SmartPages.com, respectively.

The two regional telephone companies are paying about $100 million for YellowPages.com, according to a source familiar with the deal.

The agreement comes about a week after SBC and BellSouth completed a joint $41 billion acquisition of AT&T Wireless Services Inc., which has been merged into Cingular to create the nation's largest cell phone company. SBC is the nation's second biggest local phone company and BellSouth is No. 3.

By purchasing the popular Internet search site, the companies are targeting the growing number of customers who want to find phone numbers online for free rather than dial directory assistance for a fee.

Advertisers have noticed that trend and are buying both online and print media ads for phone directories.

"This venture will help us better meet the needs of today's growing pool of Internet users who are looking for easy, accurate, local services," said Dennis M. Payne, SBC president and CEO, in a statement.

The acquisition could boost the appeal of YellowPages.Com because the accuracy of online directories not affiliated with phone companies is often questionable, said telecom analyst Jeff Kagan of Marietta, Ga.

That's because online companies, sometimes far removed from records of new listings or canceled numbers, don't always receive updated information for months and even years, Kagan said. With SBC and BellSouth involved, the new YellowPages.com could create pressure for other online directories to try to increase the quality of their listings, the analyst said.

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