Friday, June 04, 2010

Verizon Asks PSC for Permission to Stop Delivering White Pages

The June 2nd New York State Register included a posting from the New York State Public Service Commission ("PSC") seeking comments on Verizon's request for a waiver of the requirement to distribute residential white pages directories to all of its customers. The company claimed that the current requirements are no longer necessary and granting its request would be environmentally sound.

Under section 602.10(b) of the PSC's regulations, all local exchange carriers in the state are required to distribute a residential white pages directory to all customers within the service area covered by the directory. In support of its Petition, Verizon argued that "[t]echnological advances, such as Internet directories and the directories in wireless and wireline devices, have made customers much less reliant on, and interested in, printed residential white page directories." While it would still distribute business white pages, government blue pages, and the yellow pages, if its request is granted, it would only continue to distribute the residential white pages to customers that request one. The company cited to a Gallup study which showed that the percentage of households using stand-alone residential white pages dropped from 25% in 2005 to only 11% in 2008.

Verizon went on to add that other states - including Florida, Ohio, and Florida - have already determined that it is permissible to only provide residential white pages upon request.

PULP certainly understands the basis for Verizon's request. The paper involved with the printing of the residential white pages, not to mention the costs to print and distribute, may no longer make sense when, if the company is correct, only a small percentage of customers actually use the white pages and there are other means available for customers to retrieve telephone numbers. However, in many upstate communities, the white and yellow pages are combined, so a "phone book" would continue to be distributed to all customers, which may lessen the claimed cost savings and environmental benefits.

That said, not all of Verizon's customers can afford Internet access to use its online database and may not have a wireless phone available to look up telephone numbers without additional cost. At the very least, Verizon should continue to automatically distribute the white pages directories to their Lifeline customers who are much less likely to have internet service. This is an easily recognizable group for Verizon to locate and these people should not have to ask for a white pages directory. Rather, it should continue to be provided without any action on the part of the Lifeline customer.

Also, while Verizon has pledged to "make residential white page directory listings available to customers upon request in printed form, on CD-ROM, or on-line at no charge," the company does charge a significant amount of money for calls to directory assistance. Under the current tariff (at page 498), Verizon charges $1.50 for each directory assistance call, in which up to two telephone numbers can be requested. PULP believes that in the absence of a residential white pages directory, Verizon should be required to offer five free directory assistance calls a month to each residential customer, which would equal 10 telephone number requests per customer each month. If Verizon is correct and the availability of a white pages directory will not be missed by 89% of the public and most people receive telephone numbers from the Verizon webpage, then conditioning the approval of its request on this requirement should have no measureable financial impact on the company.

A better result: Dismiss Verizon's petition altogether and launch a generic proceeding to examine all of the state's service quality, consumer protection, and universal service requirements with an eye towards streamlining these mandates, but have the resulting regulations apply to all telephone providers in the state, including wireless and the voice services provided by the cable companies. The piece meal approach advocated by Verizon - its directories request was submitted on the heels of its petition to eliminate the timeliness of repair metricsexcept for "at risk" customers , which followed the company's requested changes to the disconnect notice requirements -- is the least efficient means of accomplishing these goals.

Comments on Verizon's white pages proposal are due by July 17th.

Lou Manuta

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