As we fully expected and noted in our recent blog, the City of Seattle’s new phone book ordinance which would implement new taxes and additional opt-out requirements on printed directories, has been challenged in a suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington by Dex One, SuperMedia, and the Yellow Pages Association (YPA).
The complaint, filed by Seattle-based Perkins Coie, LLP, asserts that the ordinance, passed last month:
- 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.
- unlawfully interferes with interstate commerce and
- violates the privacy rights of Seattle residents.
In a press release from YPA, President Neg Norton noted that:
“We agree that residents should have a choice of whether they receive a Yellow Pages directory, but the Seattle City Council has passed a law that violates the most basic freedom in the United States. Even as we oppose the ordinance in court, we are moving forward with plans to provide a first-class, national consumer choice website at www.yellowpagesoptout.com. This website will easily enable consumers to opt-out of unwanted phonebooks and will add no costs to taxpayers anywhere – in Seattle or across the country.”
The Seattle ordinance clearly singles out the Yellow Pages industry with regulations and fees that are not imposed on other media (or any other waste stream component) including discriminatory license fees for the right to publish and unprecedented “advance recovery fees” that previously have been limited to toxic or hard-to-recycle materials. The ordinance imposes obligatory cover language dictated by the city government and also mandates that publishers turn over confidential/private information from consumers to the City of Seattle.
Legislators seemed uninterested that the industry’s consumer choice site, www.yellowpagesoptout.com, will accomplish on a nationwide basis what Seattle now is trying to build on its own, with zero investment from the city and without the free speech concerns that the law currently presents.
“Considering the value to businesses and consumers that directories bring, and the admission by the ordinance’s lead sponsor that Yellow Pages are a ‘drop in the bucket’ of the city’s collection process, one has to wonder if the city’s intention is to impose similar free speech restrictions on other media in the future,” said Larry Angove, president of the Association of Directory Publishers (ADP), in support of the industry’s effort.
ADP joined YPA in commenting in the release noting several ways they believe the industry’s cohesive, national approach to consumer choice is better for cities in a number of ways:
- No burden to cities, taxpayers, or city government staff: Industry assumes all costs and staffing associated with development, maintenance and promotion of www.yellowpagesoptout.com.
- Greater awareness: One official industry site can be promoted which will result in greater awareness for consumers across the country.
- Integration with publishers’ technology systems: The website will work seamlessly with the publishers’ systems to ensure requests are properly recorded. This would be a nearly impossible task for any third-party who has no knowledge or understanding of the industry
- Library of directory covers provide better clarity of choice for the user: The website will include visuals that will make it easier for residents to identify the directories they wish to keep or stop.
- Protected personal information: Residents using http://www.yellowpagesoptout.com can be confident that their personal information will only be shared with publishers and not sold/used by any third parties for any reason.
While they haven’t made a big deal out of it before, industry publishers have made significant investments in sustainable practices since launching an updated industry wide Environmental Guidelines in 2007. Among the successes are:
- Use of paper that contains recycled content and fiber derived from lumber byproducts (woodchips) – making it unnecessary to use new trees to produce Yellow Pages.
- A 29% reduction in the use of directory paper since 2006, as a result of advanced pagination systems and programs to reduce the number and size of directories.
- n Use of soy-based inks and non-toxic dyes that pose little threat to soil or groundwater supplies and adhesives in the binding process that are eco-friendly and non-toxic.
- Launch of the consumer choice programs (www.yellowpagesoptout.com) to give consumers a choice to reduce or stop directory delivery.
As we noted in the first blog, this really isn’t an environmental move by the City of Seattle. Instead, it has become a clear attempt at cost shift and a political stepping stone for some Council members.
And now, it’s going to cost local residents to defend the frivolous actions of the Council.