Reforming the White Pages

Washington poised to reform mandatory phone book law.
This post is part of the research project: Making Sustainability Legal

Great news on the phone book front: Washington officials are proposing new rules that would end the state’s absurd mandatory delivery of white pages listings.

Even better, the state is proposing an “opt-in” system—meaning you won’t be saddled with a white pages book unless you ask for one—which is the least wasteful, least costly, and least annoying way to handle things. It’s a rule change that would be consistent with actions taken in many other states:

18 states have opt-in systems for white pages

With business as usual, white pages listings are a tremendous waste. Changing the rules to a statewide “opt-in” system would mark a step toward a more responsible use of resources.

But it may not happen without public support. Although virtually the entire telecom industry supports the change—as does Sightline and Seattle Public Utilities—there’s a risk that the rule will get rejected or watered down to a much less effective “opt-out” version (in which you would have to specifically tell the phone companies you don’t want a phone book).

In fact, the state attorney general’s office opposes any version of the rule change—opt-in or opt-out—arguing in favor of mandatory white pages delivery.

What can you do to support a more sustainable phone book law?
It’s easy actually. Just send a quick email to the state regulatory body that’s handling the rule change, simply and politely asking them to adopt the proposed rule. You can reach them at [email protected] (and be sure to include “Docket UT-120451” in your comments).

Overall, Washington’s proposed opt-in system is well-designed. The proposed rules include protections for public access to telephone listings and it makes it easy for consumers who want white pages phone books to get them for free. (As Sightline has argued rather extensively, it’s straightforward to design an “opt-in” system to protect social equity, which is an important objective.)

That said, the proposed regulation could do a bit more to ensure strong public protections. If you’re interested in digging into the details, please see Sightline’s official recommendations to the state.

The proposed rule will do a lot to reduce waste in Washington, saving the resources required to print—and dispose of—an estimated 1.8 million unwanted white pages directories every 15 months. Lay them end to end, and they would stretch 301 miles—the driving distance from Seattle to the Idaho border. Stack them flat, and you would have more than 7 piles higher than Mount Rainier. That’s an awful lot of waste.

Fortunately, the state’s proposed rule change will fix the white pages problem. If you support the proposal, please let the state know you think it’s the right thing to do.

There will also be a public hearing on the proposed rule at 9:30 a.m., Thursday, October 18, 2012 in the commission’s hearing room, second floor, Richard Hemstad Building, 1300 S. Evergreen Park Drive SW, Olympia, Washington.


Notes: Our waste calculations conservatively assume that 26 percent of Washington households have no landline and hence don’t currently get directories, that 7 percent of Washington households opt in (the highest percentage of people requesting directories in the reports we encountered), that only occupied housing units receive directories, and that each household with a landline gets only one white pages directory. Businesses have been excluded from the calculation. Our calculations assumed that the average directory has the same dimensions as a sample Seattle white pages, ¾” thick and 10 ¾” long.

Thanks to Nicole Bernard for graphic design.

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  1. Kay Bradley says:

    Any chance you can provide information on whom to contact in Oregon? A fair amount of us greenies down here follow your blog :-)

    • Eric de Place says:

      I’m glad you asked, Kay!

      In my original coverage of this topic I included a bit about Oregon. See:

      The short story is that a rather good Senate bill was introduced in Oregon in 2011, but then activity seems to have stalled out. Once we get Washington sorted out, it’s my intention to turn the spotlight on Oregon. It would be terrific if local advocates were excited about reforming white pages law in Oregon!

  2. Hu Gadarn says:

    Thanks for covering this. It’s an ongoing issue in BC. Every 1 – 2 years I get the white pages books (yes, that’s books, as in plural) dropped on my doorstep. I call the companies each year and ask them to take me off the list. They say “sure” and then I get the books a year or two later. When I call back to complain they give an excuse how they’ve changed their customer database and the old info did not come forward. Uh-huh.

  3. Georgie Bright Kunkel says:

    I need the white pages but I don’t need the yellow pages.
    I would really appreciate not getting the yellow pages.

  4. kelly says:

    why you did it

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