State rules phone books not necessary


OLYMPIA — Someday soon, small children could have trouble reaching the dining room table. Doors will blow shut with the breeze. Well-muscled men will search in vain for something to tear in half to prove their strength. Navin Johnson will not jump for joy with the delivery of a new phone book.

The ubiquitous phone book will stop being so, well, ubiquitous.

By order of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, phone companies in the state are no longer required to deliver the white pages to every subscriber. Customers may have to ask for a phone book from their carrier, or they may ask the company not to deliver one and look up the number online.

The commission, which regulates phone service in Washington, removed the decades-old requirement in a nod to the 21st century.

The phone book is something that people of a certain age grew up with, said Marilyn Meehan, a UTC spokeswoman. It served as a booster chair for tots too short to reach the table or did duty as a door stop. Being listed in the book was a rite of passage that marked a young adult’s move into an apartment or home.

In the movie “The Jerk,” Steve Martin as Navin Johnson jumped for joy at his listing, grabbing a book from the phone delivery man and shouting, “The new phone book’s here! Page 73. Johnson, Navin R. I’m somebody now! Millions of people look at this book every day! I’m in print! Things are going to start happening to me now.”

That got big laughs in 1979. In the days of smartphones and online search engines, it might cause kids to scratch their heads. Phone books may gather dust or go directly into the recycling bin.

“In the age of the Internet … the need for a published directory, mass distributed, has gone by the wayside,” said Brian Thomas, a UTC analyst. “The companies are free to do what they want to do.”

Some companies may continue to deliver a phone book to every customer. Some may deliver to customers unless they have asked to be taken off a list. Some may deliver only to customers who ask for a phone book.

The ruling covers only the white pages, the alphabetical listings of residential and business phones, published by the community’s phone company. In Spokane, that company is CenturyLink, although the book is printed and distributed by Dex.

Yellow-page books, with businesses listed by category and varying sizes of ads, aren’t affected by the ruling.

The decision is so new that Kerry Zimmer, a local spokeswoman for CenturyLink, said the company has not yet decided how it will adapt to the new rule.

It has time. The 2013-14 book was just recently distributed, and the company has a good supply of extras, she said. The company still gets requests for phone books from new residents.