AT&T hopes to make white pages optional in Alabama

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – White pages may soon become optional.

AT&T Inc. will ask the Alabama Civil Service Commission tomorrow to allow it to distribute the traditional white pages book only at the request of customers, while continuing to distribute the yellow pages, officials said.

Such a program has been tested over the past two years in Mobile, but the telecommunications company would like to roll it out statewide.

PSC President Lucy Baxley said on Friday she would approve AT & T’s plan as long as it removes the $ 3.50 monthly fee it charges for unlisted residential numbers. Baxley said if there weren’t any home numbers in the phone book, no one should have to pay to keep their number out.

“I’m asking the question, are you still going to charge these people for having an unlisted number when everyone else is going to have an unlisted number,” Baxley said in an interview on Friday afternoon.

An AT&T official, however, said the PSC had no jurisdiction over charges for unlisted numbers. Baxley’s demand that the company waive its monthly fee of $ 3.50 for unlisted numbers is irrelevant, said Hood Harris, director of public affairs for AT&T.

Pilot projects that give Mobile customers the option to take or reject printed blank pages have proven popular, Harris said. In the first year, only 6 percent of clients involved in the test requested the print edition of the blank pages, he said, and in the second year, the total requests were 7 percent.

He didn’t say how much AT&T saves by not posting unwanted white pages or how much revenue the company generates from monthly fees to keep customers unlisted.

“Putting restrictions now on what consumers want and ask for just doesn’t make sense,” Harris said in a statement about Baxley’s comments. “It makes even less sense that these restrictions relate to an area where Commissioner Baxley acknowledges the commission lacks jurisdiction. The commission should not now take away consumers’ choice of whether or not to receive white pages.”

The Alabama Legislature passed the Communications Reform Act of 2005 as well as an amendment in 2009, which deprived the PSC of most regulatory powers over certain telecommunications companies.

Baxley acknowledged the success of the pilot project in Mobile. People who prefer a print edition that includes residential numbers can always get one on request, or they can get them on a compact disc. The numbers are also available online.

Calvin W. Soper

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