Yee: Ditch the dead-tree phone books

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco introduced a bill today that would stop doorstep delivery of white-pages telephone directories in California unless a customer opts in to receive it.

rrrrrripThe California Public Utilities Commission since 1995 has included telephone directory delivery as part of the universal service all telephone companies must provide; the rationale was that providing free white pages would minimize calls to directory assistance and promote distribution of advertising.

“The requirement that phone companies must deliver the white pages comes from an era before the internet and other means of obtaining phone numbers,” Yee said in a news release today. “At a time when Californians are looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint, we should give them that choice, particularly when very few customers still use the white pages.”

Under Yee’s SB 920, telephone companies would have to get a customer’s consent before a white page directory could be delivered; the bill doesn’t specify how, but Yee envisions a check-off box on the monthly bill or a toll-free number for customers to call. Cleveland and Miami have adopted similar local laws.

The Product Stewardship Institute says telephone books represent 660,000 tons of waste per year, with local governments bearing the costs to recycle or otherwise dispose of them. Yee cites a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report which says not publishing a phone book reduces greenhouse gases by about three times as much as recycling.

Yee’s bill is backed by Californians Against Waste, as well as by Phonebook Free SF, a grassroots effort to push a similar policy in San Francisco.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.