Mike O'Brien's personal collection
  • R.B.
  • Mike O'Brien's personal collection
It's back to the drawing board for the proposed city-administered opt-out phone book bill. Council Member Mike O'Brien, who was expected to introduce the legislation at the City Council's Public Utilities and Neighborhoods Committee meeting Tuesday said that the city needs more time to figure out "who will administer the opt-out list."

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Ultimately, O'Brien's legislation seeks to prohibit distribution of the yellow pages to those who don't want them. It would also fine phone book publishers for flaunting the law, making it the toughest phone book bill in the country.

So of course it's not surprising that yellow pages publishers (who somehow refuse to believe that Google is the new yellow pages) want no such thing. Heavy hitters from some of the biggest names in the $12 billion yellow pages publishing industry, a.k.a. sharks in suits, circled the Council Chambers Tuesday, lobbying the committee against unfairly singling them out. They even brought up constitutional rights—"Yellow Pages are commercial speech entitled to protection under the First Amendment," said Neg Norton, president of the Yellow Pages Association, the main trade organization for yellow pages publishers nationally, who flew cross-country to speak at the meeting. Others issued caveats. Maggie Stonecipher, who was representing Dex, the biggest phone book delivery company in Seattle, said that imposing a fee "on a single media is legally questionable, unfair, and inconsistent with how the city has managed other Zero Waste initiatives."

Norton, who acknowledged that he wasn't entirely anti opt-out—"we have no incentive in delivering yellow pages to people who don't want them"—said that he realized the current system wasn't working too well. Anecdotal evidence shows that phone book companies continue to deliver yellow pages to people who have already opted out. But, Norton said, "any regulation requirements should be reasonable... we don't want new taxes."

O'Brien assured The Stranger after the meeting that the yellow pages folks had not scared him away. "The meat of the legislation will still be the same," he said. "Right now five different phone book companies in Seattle have five different opt-out lists—we want to have a single list. Phone book companies are concerned that if every city created their own list, then it would prove to be a huge burden not just on them, but the cities as well."

As a result O'Brien said he wants to invent a system all other cities can use too—"maybe one provider who makes it really simple to administer the list."

Seattle might look at Catalog Choice, O'Brien said, a free service for unwanted mail which has just started getting into the opt-out system. Whatever it is, we won't find out until September, which is when the committee meets next. Until then, watch out for both yellow pages deliveries and yellow pages spin.

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