This spring, Greenwood resident Jason Sawatzki went online and registered to stop receiving yellow pages. But a few weeks later, he says, "despite both my wife and I filing two separate opt-outs, we still came home to find a big bag of Dex on our doorstep." So the next thing he did? "Complaint filed."
According to a law passed last October by the Seattle City Council, a faulty yellow pages delivery results in a $125 fine to the offending distributor. It was the toughest phone book legislation in the country—one that created a city-run opt-out registry for the estimated two million phone books delivered in Seattle each year and serious penalties for companies that broke the rules—prompting the yellow pages industry to launch a federal lawsuit arguing the new rules infringed on free speech. (They're currently appealing their last court loss, but the law remains in effect.)
Seattle began to see the results of this grand experiment in late June, when Dex became the first publisher to deliver its brand-new books under the new regime. Within a month, at least 18 people complained they got phone books even though they'd opted out, says Seattle Public Utilities spokesman Dick Lilly.
But Dex won't necessarily have to pay a $125 penalty for each unwanted delivery.
Lilly explains that the fine isn't triggered until a publisher reaches a set delivery error rate—or rather, a complaint rate—of one half of 1 percent. In other words, if 30,000 homes opted out of Dex phone books, it would take 150 valid complaints to trigger the fine. Lilly doesn't know the exact number of Dex deliveries or how many households opted out of Dex books specifically, but, he says, the company hasn't exceeded the error rate yet and no fines are pending.
The lack of immediate penalties frustrates Sawatzki—who calls Dex a "fucking litterbug"—and the handful of other Seattle residents who've registered complaints.
"If people don't complain, we have to assume the companies are following the law," explains Josh Fogt, a spokesman for city council member Mike O'Brien, who sponsored the phone book legislation.
Given the few complaints thus far, Lilly says Dex is "bending over backward to make sure they don't make mistakes."
Or, as Fogt points out, not everyone who gets a phone book despite opting out is complaining. He says people should register their grievances.
To complain about a faulty delivery, log in to seattle.catalogchoice.org, find the Choices tab, click Dex, and then hit the File a Complaint button. If the button doesn't work, you didn't opt out from Dex in time—that is, 30 days before it started delivering phone books. If the button works, your complaint is valid and has been forwarded to Seattle Public Utilities.