Dex One Corp., SuperMedia and the Yellow Pages Association filed a suit on Monday to challenge a Seattle phone book ordinance on the grounds that it restricts publishers’ fundamental right to free speech.
The city ordinance (PDF) in question requires Yellow Pages publishers to pay a 14-cent fee on each commercial phone book delivered in the city. Publishers also face a $125 fine for delivering unwanted Yellow Pages to residents or businesses and an $100 annual licensing fee.
The phone book companies’ complaint asserts that the ordinance violates the First Amendment, which prohibits government from licensing or exercising advance approval of the press, from directing publishers what to publish and to whom they may communicate, and from assessing fees for the privilege of publishing.
The suit also claims that the Seattle ordinance unlawfully interferes with interstate commerce and violates the privacy rights of Seattle residents.
In towns all across America, it’s not unusual for multiple “free” phone books to land on residents doorsteps throughout the year. For most people, the books are a nuisance and an outdated resource given the speed and accuracy of internet search engines.
BanThePhoneBook.org reports that up to 5 million trees are cut down each year to create just the white pages and that taxpayers are spending $17 million each year to have these books recycled.
Seattle officials estimated that about 1.5 million Yellow Pages are delivered to residents and businesses each year, creating 2,300 tons of paper that the city must recycle.
The phone companies insist that they are working to address this waste by creating a national consumer choice website at www.yellowpagesoptout.com, but most supporters of the Seattle ordinace feel that this isn’t enough.
Instead, organizations like Ban The Phone Book say that consumers would prefer an “opt-in” program, where phone books would be delivered only if requested by residents.
Image Credit: Flickr - recyclethis