Phone books refuse to just go away

Just like cassette tapes and rotary phones, we may one day miss tripping over stacks of Yellow Pages while heading out the door.

But that day isn’t soon.

A pilot program aimed at banning unwanted distribution of phone books in San Francisco has been shelved. The ordinance, passed in 2011, was the first in the nation to require residents and businesses to opt-in to receive the weighty tomes.

The decision comes after a similar ordinance in Seattle was shot down by a federal appeals court in October.

As it turns out, the Yellow Pages are two-pounds of bounded free speech.

In an unanimous decision, a three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Seattle’s opt-out legislation unconstitutional:

“We do not see a principled reason to treat telephone directories differently from newspapers, magazines, television programs, and similar media.”

Supervisor David Chiu, who sponsored the San Francisco bill, understandably told the Bay Citizen he was flummoxed by the ruling:

“[It] protects giant corporate polluters that litter our San Francisco doorsteps with 1.6 million unwanted Yellow Pages books each year.”

Melanie Nutter, director of the San Francisco Environmental Department, estimates the phone books create nearly seven million pounds of trash in the city each year.

While the pilot program never took flight, a trade group for directory publishers called the Local Search Association has also challenged The City’s ordinance on First Amendment grounds.

Neg Norton, president of the Local Search Association, told the Bay Citizen the marketplace should run its course:

“If nobody uses these products anymore, then advertisers won’t advertise in them, and we won’t publish them anymore.”

Enjoy the free door stoppers while they last, guys.