Is there a legal option?
As the use of printed phone books declines, several state and local lawmakers have sought legislative solutions to limit unnecessary phone book production and distribution. In 2010, Seattle legislated a city-wide phone book opt out system. In 2011, San Francisco passed the nation’s first yellow pages opt-in ordinance. In 2012, however, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Seattle’s ordinance, ruling that phone books are protected as free speech. San Francisco suspended its ordinance as a result.
Due to this history, passing legislation for phone books requires significant planning, commitment, and political will. Although legislation similar to that of Seattle or San Francisco will face a legal hurdle, there may be small-scale legislative opportunities worth pursuing. If your agency is interested in introducing legislation, we strongly recommend discussing it with counsel.
What does a phone book ordinance look like?
While the exact language in phone book stewardship legislation has varied, nearly all follow one of two models:
- Opt-In: Considered the most effective way to promote phone book source reduction, opt-in legislation would prohibit publishers from distributing phone books except when they receive requests in writing to do so. Several states have implemented opt-in policies for white pages directories; however, only a few agencies, including San Francisco, have introduced yellow pages opt-in legislation.
- Opt-Out: This type of legislation would require telephone directory companies to implement a city or statewide opt-out program. While the Seattle ordinance was struck down on appeal, bills mandating small or incremental improvements to the phone book industry’s current voluntary opt-out program may have merit. Examples of such incremental improvements include the following:
- Require publishers to print opt-out information on the front cover of the phone book at a specific font size.
- Require publishers to develop a registry of residents that have elected to opt out.
- Require publishers to maintain residents on an opt-out registry for at least five years (under voluntary systems, many publishers return addresses that have opted out to their distribution list every year).
- Create penalties for publishers that fail to adhere to the opt-out regulations.
For further information or legislative assistance, please reach out to PSI directly by contacting Scott Cassel at (617) 236-4822.
PSI has developed additional resources to help local and state officials create a strong legislative platform for opt-out or opt-in legislation for phone books. These resources are only available for PSI members and partners. They include:
- Telephone Directory Stewardship Legislative Menu of Options
- Telephone Directory Stewardship Model Legislative Language
- Telephone Directory Stewardship Ordinances and Bills Introduced: 2007-2011
Members and partners should log into the PSI website to access these resources. Interested in exploring membership or partnership opportunities? Contact PSI's Suzy Whalen at (617) 236-8293.
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