LPSC may phase out white pages delivery

The Louisiana Public Service Commission is considering dropping statewide mandatory residential white pages delivery.

The move comes at a time when, according to AT&T, only about one percent of households in the country use the directory. The advent of the Internet has changed the way people access information, and the company no longer believes resources should be diverted to a scarcely-used book.

Louisiana residents, under the proposal, would only receive the directory by request, according to Commissioner Eric Skrmetta, R-Metairie. Residents still interested in receiving the white pages would need to sign up online or through a toll-free phone number.

The matter is on the PSC’s May 23 agenda, though commissioners are not sure it will be taken up then.

“If a consumer requests a directory, they will absolutely receive a directory under AT&T’s proposal,” Skrmetta said. “Unwanted and unused directories are a waste of natural resources and scarce capital.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the directories generated 650,000 tons of solid waste in 2009, and a 2008 Gallup poll found only 11 percent of households used the printed White Pages phone books that year, down from 25 percent in 2005.

Skrmetta argued the capital spent on printing the directories could be better invested by the company on expanding services, especially into unserved and under-served areas.

“It’s the right thing for economic development to get them these services,” Skrmetta said. “We have entrepreneurs in rural areas who would benefit from that expansion. We have to be efficient.”

AT&T has supported the proposal as a way to save money for such investments.

The company wouldn’t say how much the company spends on the directories or how many pages are printed each year, citing competitive reasons.

“Lessons learned from 75 markets around the country tell us that fewer than one percent of our customers make that request,” said AT&T spokeswoman Kim Allen. “We hear what our customers are telling us, loud and clear — instead of spending money publishing white pages directories few people want, use that money to invest in new technologies to deliver enhancements like broadband service and more wireless services across Louisiana. And that’s exactly what AT&T intends to do. Louisiana consumers deserve nothing less.”

Commissioner Foster Campbell, D-Bossier City, doesn’t believe that will be the case. He argues the proposal is designed only to save AT&T money which the company will only pocket, not reinvest into rural development.

“That’s just not true. I do not believe them at all,” Campbell said. “Why are we letting AT&T make more money when service is poor and rates are high? What are we rewarding them for?”

Campbell said AT&T has expressed no interest in the past toward expanding services to rural parishes. Rural parish residents are less likely to have, or want, access to the Internet, Campbell said, and would be disserviced by ending directory delivery.

“It’s naïve to say these people can just go online to get the same information,” Campbell said. “I hope people who want to keep the phone book will make their voices heard.”

Skrmetta said the PSC has the authority to make AT&T keep its word on expanding services following any changes. He said he’s never had a show of bad faith from the company in his three years of service.

“We have the ability to make them live up to their obligations,” Skrmetta said.