Farewell, phone book: Proposed rule means White Pages won't be left on doorstep

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The days of the phone book are coming to an end.

Minnesota's CenturyLink customers will no longer find the heavy, 300-plus page phone book on their doorstep – and other phone companies are likely not far behind.

State rule requires phone service providers distribute the White Pages to all customers, but on Monday, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted to grant a variance to CenturyLink. It means the company will no longer be required to print and distribute phone books to its customers unless they specifically request one.

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Phone books have become seemingly useless for many customers now that most Americans have cellphones (mobile numbers aren't listed in the White Pages) and are able to easily search online for a number.

The New York Times reported in 2011 that only 30 percent of Americans actually use the White Pages. For the most part, phone books are never opened and wind up in the recycling bin. (Did you know: Minnesota state law prohibits "throwing away" a phone book in any place but a recycling facility?)

Because phone books can be such a waste, many phone companies have been pushing to print less copies of the phone book by allowing customers to "opt-out" or "opt-in" for delivery, a University of Iowa report said. There has been an opt-out option for the Yellow Pages for a few years.

The PUC's decision is good timing for CenturyLink. The Star Tribune notes in a few weeks, CenturyLink was set to print its next edition of the Minneapolis White Pages – that's 94 million pages in 270,000 phone books just for the city.

This isn't the first time PUC has allowed a phone company to only distribute phone books to customers who ask. In 2012, PUC allowed Frontier Communications to do so, and this spring the commission is expected to vote on amending the state rule that requires phone book distribution, the newspaper says.

If that amendment is approved, no phone companies in Minnesota would be required to print and give out phone books unless one was requested.

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