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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Phone books may some day be rare

OLYMPIA – Some day 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; they may say ask the company not to deliver one, and look up the number online.

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, go inside the blog.

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, Marilyn Meehan, a UTC spokeswoman, said. 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, by 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 smart phones and online search engines, it might cause kids to scratch their heads. Phone books may gather dust in a closet, 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,” Brian Thomas, a UTC analyst, said. “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 Century Link, 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 Century Link, said the company has not yet decided how it will adapt to the new rule. It has time.

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

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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