Phone companies no longer have to print directories for Washington customers

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The once-useful, once-necessary, once-ubiquitous White Pages will soon be no more — unless you really want one.

State regulators Tuesday ended a requirement that local telephone companies annually deliver printed directories to all their Washington customers.

The change is expected to remove more than 300 tons of unwanted paper directories from waste and recycling bins annually, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 4,000 tons and saving local governments hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in waste-processing costs, according to a release from the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission.

The new rule requires companies to make directories available electronically, and to provide paper directories only to those customers who specifically request them.

The decision doesn’t prohibit companies from printing paper directories altogether, noting a recent federal court decision acknowledging the companies’ First Amendment right to do so. However, it directed any telephone company that chooses to publish paper directories to establish procedures by which customers can opt out of receiving them.

“The change is timely,” said UTC Chairman Dave Danner. “More and more, people go online for the kind of information the White Pages provide. Our action today eliminates tons of unwanted paper.”

The revised rule, Washington Administrative Code 480-120-251, becomes effective May 17.

The commission has jurisdiction over White Pages telephone directories because listings are provided as part of traditional telephone service. The UTC does not have authority over the business directories printed as yellow pages or paid advertising listings, the release said.

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission is the state agency in charge of regulating the rates and services of landline telephone companies operating in Washington.