San Francisco Moves To Ban Yellow Pages

San Francisco is about to ban the delivery of yellow pages, unless residents ask for one. Advocates of the move say the restriction is good for the environment and that the Internet makes printed directories unnecessary for most people. Opponents say yellow page listings are important to businesses. Other cities have tried to curb the number of unwanted phone books with opt-out ordinances, but San Francisco's is the first opt-in only law.

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San Francisco is taking on the Yellow Pages. The city is about to restrict delivery to only those who ask for them.

NPR's Richard Gonzales reports that the move is meant to reduce waste. But phone book publishers claim it will cripple their $13 billion industry.

RICHARD GONZALES: There was a time when the arrival of the Yellow Pages landing on your porch or in your apartment lobby was a reminder that your old and dog-eared copy from last year was ready for the trash or recycle bin.

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GONZALES: But many people in San Francisco, and for that matter around the country, are wondering if the Yellow Pages are obsolete in the age of the Internet.

Janan New directs the San Francisco Apartment Association, a trade group for landlords. New says an overwhelming majority of her members say they've had it with the dusty stacks.

Ms. JANAN NEW (Executive Director, San Francisco Apartment Association): And if the tenants don't pick them up, the books collect down there in the lobby, which creates, you know, not only a garbage hazard but a fire hazard. And there's no reliance on either the owner or the resident manager to pick all of that up and recycle it.

GONZALES: The president of the board of supervisors, David Chiu, says he's had the same experience in his apartment lobby. That's why he's proposed a law limiting delivery of the yellow pages.

Mr. DAVID CHIU (President, San Francisco Board of Supervisors): In San Francisco, there are at least 1.6 million phonebook directories, yellow pages, dumped on apartment lobbies and neighborhoods, creating neighborhood blight. If you stack up all of these phonebooks, just in San Francisco, that's equivalent to almost 300 Transamerica Pyramids laid end to end.

GONZALES: And Chiu says it adds up to seven million pounds of wastepaper that needs to be recycled every year. Chiu has lined up environmentalists, some small business owners and apartment managers to support the measure. And that's left the yellow pages industry, now calling itself the Local Search Association, fighting an uphill battle.

Mr. PETER HILLAN (Spokesman, Local Search Association): We understand that yellow pages aren't for everybody, particularly in a tech-savvy, urban, younger city such as San Francisco.

GONZALES: Peter Hillan is a spokesman for the Local Search Association. He says the yellow pages are printed on recycled paper and consumers can already opt out or choose not to receive them. Hillan says forcing consumers to opt in effectively makes the measure an outright ban.

Mr. HILLAN: We do think it goes very far and will do damage to small businesses trying to seek their customers. It'll have an immediate impact on a number of jobs that are associated with the publications. And it will disenfranchise some that are already disenfranchised in a Internet world.

GONZALES: Joining the industry in defense of the yellow pages are some unions, ethnic organizations, seniors and at least one high-profile consumer group that usually focuses on utility regulation. Mindy Spatt is a spokeswoman for a group called TURN.

Ms. MINDY SPATT (Spokeswoman, The Utility Reform Network): A lot of TURN members are seniors. These are people who don't have computers, don't have Internet access. They actually write to us letters, handwritten, stamped. This is how they communicate. Once they don't have a phonebook, where are these people going to go for information?

GONZALES: In Seattle, there's a similar dispute, except there, the city is implementing an opt out law. San Francisco's law goes further by requiring consumers to opt in. The board of supervisors will take its final vote on the measure tomorrow.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.

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