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Judge: Phone books on way out, mass distribution unnecessary

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Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2012 11:46 pm | Updated: 12:06 pm, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — An administrative law judge is backing a move to stop automatic distribution of residential phone books to Alaska households, generally agreeing with the argument that the directories have become less necessary in a new era of phone service.

Alaska Communications had asked the Regulatory Commission of Alaska in June 2011 to allow it to halt mass distribution of the white pages, a practice required by state law. The company argued that in an age when such listings are available online, forcing it to send copies of the white pages to customers was both a hassle and an unnecessary environmental expense.

The RCA rejected that request last November, but promised to revisit it this year after more study. Administrative Law Judge John P. Wood submitted an opinion last month backing the move, writing that arguments in favor of scrapping delivery of the white pages are persuasive.

Customers who request a paperbound copy of the white pages would continue to receive the phone books until they opt out, according to Wood’s ruling.

The RCA was initially scheduled to vote on the matter earlier this month, but the parties agreed to allow state regulators to extend their deadline until Dec. 28.

Wood agreed with arguments that the directories are declining in use, are quickly out of date and have information that is typically available on the Internet, although he said not all of those points were relevant reasons for halting their distribution. He also agreed the automatic distribution has become a source of consumer complaints, and other jurisdictions have halted the practice.

“The provision of local exchange service has changed from the time that the requirement to automatically deliver a paperbound directory to all local exchange customers was enacted,” Wood wrote in his ruling. “Further, the reliance on paperbound directories has declined while complaints about the automatic delivery of directories have increased.”

Both of Alaska’s largest land-line telephone companies, Alaska Communications and GCI, wrote letters in support of Wood’s ruling with minor modifications.

Both Alaska Communications and GCI testified that the listings in the white pages are becoming less relevant.

Wireless customers, which have become a huge segment of phone users, aren’t listed in the directories. Among land-line users, GCI and Alaska Communications both testified that at least 40 percent of customers don’t want to be listed in the white pages directories.

Alaska Communications had argued that printing and distributing thousands of phone books was a costly environmental expense. In Fairbanks alone, nearly 15 million pages of residential listings were printed in about 63,000 phone books in 2011, the company said last year.

Wood’s ruling and the RCA decision only affect residential white-page directories. Government pages, business white pages and yellow pages are not part of the case.

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