Goodbye, goodbye white pages – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

What is black and white and reads everywhere? Not the white pages, which is why regulators have begun giving telcos the go-ahead to stop the mass printing of residential phone books, a moldy feature of kitchen counters, refrigerator tops and drawers. American garbage.

In the past month alone, New York, Florida and Pennsylvania approved Verizon Communications Inc.’s request to stop distributing residential white pages. Virginia residents have until Nov. 19 to provide comments on a similar request pending with state regulators.

Phone companies say most consumers are now browsing the Internet rather than flipping through pages when they want to reach out and touch someone.

“Anyone who doesn’t have access to some kind of online way to look up things is probably too old to read the white pages anyway,” joked Robert Thompson, a pop culture professor at Syracuse University.

Telcos note that eliminating residential white pages would reduce environmental impact by using less paper and ink. Nor can it hurt their bottom line to reduce the cost of a service that is rarely used and generates little beyond nostalgia.

The first telephone directory was published in February 1878 – a single page that covered 50 customers in New Haven, Connecticut. This sheet has become a book that has practically become a household appliance, listing the numbers of neighbors, friends and colleagues, not to mention countless potential victims of prank calls.

Fewer people depend on paper directories for a variety of reasons: more people rely solely on cell phones, whose numbers are usually not included in listings; more ads are available online; and mobile phones and caller ID systems on landlines can store large numbers of frequently called numbers.

The number of traditional landlines declined for most of the decade and is now disconnected at a rate of nearly 10% each year, according to company financial reports.

And a survey conducted for SuperMedia Inc. by Gallup shows that between 2005 and 2008, the percentage of households relying on stand-alone residential white pages fell from 25% to 11%. Dallas-based SuperMedia, which publishes Verizon’s telephone directories, has instead focused on its yellow pages and paid ads, as well as their online equivalents.

Unlike residential white pages, business directories printed on yellow pages are doing well, at least according to the Yellow Pages Association. The industry trade group says more than half of people in the United States still let their fingers walk each month, and that 550 million residential and business directories are still printed each year.

As for the white pages, Steve Keschl can attest to the decline in interest. As a doorman at an Upper East Side condominium building since 1960, the 84-year-old has watched tenants’ waning reaction to New York’s annual White Pages book delivery – which incidentally weighs around 3 pounds, 9 ounces, or just over a dozen iPhones.

These days, the books “stay here for quite a long time,” said Keschl, who added that even he rarely uses the repertoire anymore. “Sometimes they take them, sometimes they don’t.”

While New York and other cities still have stand-alone white pages, many of the thousands of telephone directories across the country include residential white pages, yellow business listings, and government blue pages. Where they no longer need to print the blank pages, publishers will simply reduce their combined books.

Verizon and AT&T Inc. — the two biggest landline players — and others have sought exemptions from state requirements to distribute residential phone books in paper form. The directories would be available on the Internet, printed on demand or provided on CD.

“You’re probably more likely to find a name faster if you can just look it up in a database rather than trying to look it up in the white pages,” said Link Hoewing, vice president of internet policy. and Technology from Verizon.

As of 2007, states that have granted permission to stop printing residential listings or have pending requests include: Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

New York-based Verizon’s plan is to seek regulatory approval in the 12 states where it operates landline service. In total, the savings could exceed 17,000 tons of paper per year in Verizon’s service areas, the company said.

The company and its printer, which uses the Verizon brand in lieu of payment for publishing the white pages, did not provide estimates of the cost of printing the directories or the savings from removing them.

New York regulators approved Verizon’s application on October 14. There, the company estimates it will save about 3,575 tons of paper per year and conserve the energy associated with printing, binding and distributing the directories. The company’s August filing with Virginia regulators is expected to save about 1,640 tons of paper annually.

Verizon plans to continue to provide directories with business and government listings as well as consumer guide information provided in white pages directories, but residential listings would only be available upon request.

Dallas-based AT&T did not respond to repeated messages from The Associated Press seeking comment on this story.

According to documents filed with state regulators, AT&T said that in places where it was allowed to provide the white pages on demand, only about 2% of customers requested a copy.

The residential phone book “no longer provides the same service as before,” AT&T told Missouri regulators, who approved the company’s application for major metropolitan areas in the state. “The vast majority of customers do not need or use these often quite large and bound paper directories.”

If the white pages are coming to an end, then Emily Goodmann hopes that the directories will be archived for historical, genealogical or sociological purposes.

The phone book is the original type of information network that not only functioned as a kind of social network in a sense, but it also served as one of the earliest information resources,” Goodmann said, PhD student at Northwestern University writing his thesis on the history of telephone directories as information technology. “It’s kind of heartbreaking…even though these books are basically made to be destroyed.”

Associated Press writers Samantha Gross and Peter Svensson in New York contributed to this report.

Calvin W. Soper