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Monday, August 9, 2010

Phone-Book Bill Would Be Toughest in the Country

Posted by on Mon, Aug 9, 2010 at 6:03 PM

Posted at 2:35 p.m. and updated with more info.

Bye bye phone books?
  • R.B.
  • Unwanted pests
Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien will introduce legislation (.pdf) to create a city-administered opt-out system for yellow pages at the Seattle Public Utilities and Neighborhoods committee meeting tomorrow. If approved by the full City Council, the opt-out system could go into effect by 2011, establishing the most restrictive phone-book regulations in the U.S.

The new rules would allow residents who don't want the yellow pages—essentially tomes of advertisements thick enough to stun an ox—to stop annual deliveries to their home, prohibiting phone-book companies from distributing books to anyone who asks. To do this, it would establish a centralized system—overseen by the city—so residents could file requests to stop future phone book deliveries online, by phone, or by filling out pre-paid postcards to be attached to all yellow pages phone books. (White pages, a succinct listing of names and numbers, would not be affected because they are governed by a state law.)

Under O'Brien's proposal, residents who opt-out but still receive phone books will be able to file complaints with the city. A substantial amount of complaints would trigger an investigation. Penalties could range from small fees to businesses getting their licenses revoked for repeated violations. Seattle would create a $100 annual business license for yellow pages publishers. Requirements for honoring the opt-out system will be specified in the license, which must be renewed annually.

Although the Yellow Pages Association, a group which represents yellow pages publishers nationally, and many phone book companies already allow voluntary opt-outs, O'Brien has said that the current system is flawed. Phone book companies often don't take their opt-out system seriously, failing to remove people from the distribution route. O'Brien was not immediately available for comment today.

A number of groups—including Zero Waste Seattle—applaud the legislation even though they have been pushing for stronger regulations. Zero Waste considers opt-in the most effective way of reducing unwanted phone books, limiting distribution to only those who sign up for the yellow pages. But the city isn't considering an opt-in program currently due to legal reasons. "We of course prefer opt-in, but it's clear that there would be legal hurdles," says Heather Trim of Stop Waste Seattle. "What we were hoping for was a trigger if opt-out doesn't work in two years, so that we could then try opt-in, but looks like that's not in the legislation." Seattle Public Utilities estimates that the city's approximately 275,000 households recycle 2,231 tons of paper from phone books every year.

Although O'Brien was initially considering an opt-in system, city officials raised questions about its legal ramifications.

Still, Trim says, if O'Brien's opt-out legislation gets passed, it will be the toughest in the country. "There are no other cities that have an opt-out like this," Trim says. "We are hoping it will catch on." Albany has a similar law, but it's not as strict, Trim says.

So who's picking up the tab for the opt-out system? Publishers of yellow pages will be asked to cover two costs: recycling unwanted phone books and administering the opt-out system. A recovery fee will be placed on each phone book delivered which will go toward the city's Solid Waste Fund. A spokesperson for the Yellow Pages Association said Monday that they have not yet seen the proposed ordinance.


Comments (20) RSS

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Will in Seattle 1
Who is this O'Brian guy?

Do you mean O'Brien?

I know having two Mikes is hard ... but ...
Posted by Will in Seattle on August 9, 2010 at 2:51 PM · Report this
Riya Bhattacharjee 2
sorry - yes o'brien!
Posted by Riya Bhattacharjee on August 9, 2010 at 2:55 PM · Report this
Vince 3
I have a feeling the doors of hell are being opened on this and the phone books companies are going to be pushing back big time. But I hope O'Brien wins.
Posted by Vince on August 9, 2010 at 3:14 PM · Report this
passionate_jus 4
Good job Mike O'brien! Thank you!
Posted by passionate_jus on August 9, 2010 at 3:19 PM · Report this
My internet was down off and on for a couple days (thank you Qwest) and boy was I glad to have my phone books then...
Posted by MungoJerry3 on August 9, 2010 at 3:21 PM · Report this
in-frequent 6
Opt-In option, please.

Posted by in-frequent on August 9, 2010 at 3:34 PM · Report this
vooodooo84 7
@5 so don't opt out, leotard
Posted by vooodooo84 on August 9, 2010 at 3:41 PM · Report this
Opt out does not fix the problem.

Opt in fixes the problem.
Posted by SeattleSeven on August 9, 2010 at 4:20 PM · Report this
yes please
Posted by jessalou on August 9, 2010 at 4:20 PM · Report this
Fnarf 10
Bu-bu-bu-but this means they'll have to hire non-junkies who can read the addresses, rather than just blanket the neighborhood.

I'll never forget the time I heard him out there and opened the door, and the emaciated, stinking phonebook delivery guy blew a lungful of smoke directly into my face. Good times.
Posted by Fnarf on August 9, 2010 at 6:24 PM · Report this
wisepunk 11
It would be great if there was a penalty attached to delivering the phone book to opt-out addresses. Also, no independent contractors, only full time employees should deliver these. full disclosure, I work for the largest printer of phone books in the country.
Posted by wisepunk on August 9, 2010 at 6:30 PM · Report this
A truly tough law would put the phone book publishers to death, perhaps burned alive on a pyre of unwanted phone books...
Posted by Peter F on August 9, 2010 at 7:11 PM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 13
Oh the lawsuits and bald-faced lobbying we'll have!
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on August 9, 2010 at 9:09 PM · Report this
breakdown 15
I'm looking forward to opting out on behalf of everyone in my building, then swiping the pile of phone books they leave in front of the building next door and filing a complaint so the fuckers get fined. Oh yes, revenge is going to be sweet.
Posted by breakdown on August 10, 2010 at 1:04 AM · Report this
SchmuckyTheCat 16
This bill doesn't sound like it does anything for apartments and condominium buildings where they drive up and start tossing books into the lobby. Who opted out? How many were delivered? It won't matter, they don't count them, they just shovel them out.
Posted by SchmuckyTheCat on August 10, 2010 at 1:24 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 17
"Seattle would create a $100 annual business license for yellow pages publishers."

Why not make it a $100 annual business license for each yellow page delivery person instead? Or make it a scaling fee based on the number of books they'd like to deliver if it's on the businesses like Dex themselves? $100 per 1000 sounds fair.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on August 10, 2010 at 7:10 AM · Report this
A $56M budget hole, and this guy is worried about phone books? That's what he is spending staff time, and his time on?

Stupid is as stupid does.
Posted by mcskeptic on August 10, 2010 at 7:10 AM · Report this
TVDinner 19
@18: There are a billion people on this planet living on a less than a dollar a day. Are you gonna drink that beer? Is that what you're spending your time and disposable income on?
Posted by TVDinner http:// on August 10, 2010 at 7:20 AM · Report this
misterlevitan 20
i hope this sweeps the nation and rids us all of useless phone books.
Posted by misterlevitan on August 10, 2010 at 8:36 AM · Report this

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