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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington Hangs Up On Mandatory Delivery Of White Pages

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OLYMPIA, Wash. - Utility regulators Tuesday ordered an end to the automatic delivery of White Pages phone books to Washington households. Legislation to do the same in Oregon hasn't gone anywhere.

For decades, Western states commonly required their local phone companies to deliver a phone book to each landline customer. But telecom companies contend most consumers no longer want a printed copy of the White Pages dropped on their doorsteps. So the three-member Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission voted unanimously to strike a blow against waste.

Commission policy analyst Brian Thomas says beginning in mid-May, Washingtonians will need to opt-in for a printed White Pages.

"Companies will publish directories and will provide them to consumers who continue to want them, but they don't have to distribute them anymore to consumers who no longer want them or require them."

In Oregon, a third attempt in the state legislature to create an "opt-in" system for all phone books recently died. Idaho's public utility commission repealed its mandatory White Pages distribution rule in 2010.

State utility regulators have purview over the White Pages because those directory listings have traditionally been considered an essential public service. The yellow pages are different. An effort by the City of Seattle to regulate the distribution of unwanted yellow pages phone books has turned into a free speech case.

A precedent-setting lawsuit pitting yellow pages publishers against the city attorney has gone all the way to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

On the Web:

White Pages distribution - Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission 
HB 2825: Distribution of printed telephone directories - Oregon Legislature

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.