Telephone book rule will save paper, money

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission took steps to reduce tons of unwanted paper last week by eliminating a decades-old rule requiring telephone companies to deliver white pages directories every year to all of their customers in the state.

The move is expected to remove some 300 tons of unwanted phone books from waste and recycling bins annually, plus save local governments big bucks in waste-processing costs.

The mandatory delivery of phone directories each year is a relic from a pre-Internet, rotary phone era when online white pages information didn’t exist.

The new rule requires phone companies to make directories available electronically, plus provide paper directories to customers who request them.

Some of the details in the new system have yet to be worked out. For instance, a recent federal court ruling said phone companies have a First Amendment right to publish paper directories. But it should be the responsibility of the companies to make it easy for customers to “opt out” of receiving them.

The new rule goes into effect May 17. The ruling doesn’t apply to business directories because the UTC doesn’t have authority over the Yellow Pages.