Pro phone-book PR flacks, about a dozen of them, descended on the City Council's Public Utilities and Neighborhoods Committee meeting today to oppose an opt-out registry and a recovery fee for yellow pages in the city.
Fed up with seeing phone book publishers ignoring requests to stop delivering big, bulky yellow pages, Seattle Council Member Mike O'Brien has proposed a single city-run opt-out system which would allow citizens to sign up if they don't want these books. O'Brien's legislation would prohibit yellow pages publishers from distributing books to people on the list and even punish them for flouting the law.
At issue is a 40 cent fine for every unwanted phone book that gets delivered to somebody's doorstep. Phone book companies are arguing that this "recovery" fee is a violation of their First Amendment rights. "We think it's unnecessary," YPA president Neg Norton told The Stranger. "It unfairly targets a single advertising medium, exposing the city to costly legal challenges for years to come."
Heather Trim of Zero Waste Seattle said that the city should not have to pay for recovering phone books. If yellow pages companies sue, the Seattle Public Utilities acknowledged that their argument might actually hold some weight in court.
But perhaps the biggest PR stunt was pulled by the Yellow Pages Association (YPA) just hours before O'Brien was scheduled to unveil the new plan. The YPA sent out a press release announcing their own plan for a one-stop-shop online registry that would allow visitors to stop the delivery of one or all directories to their homes. The current YPA site only gives people information about opt-out programs with individual publishers.
"It's the solution to Seattle's yellow pages problem," Norton said. The committee finally decided to explore the legal ramifications of a fee. "It's important for the City of Seattle to take bold action, at the same time we can take a few weeks," O'Brien said. The committee, which was considering voting today, deferred instead.
C'mon folks, it's time to stop dragging your feet and make a decision. Pronto. It's way too much time to waste on phone books. Seriously.