Plantation Publishing, AT&T and The Public Service Commission; We're (not) in the Book
Wednesday, May 5th, 2010
Regulators at the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) in a recent 4-1 vote adopted changes to commission rules in response to a request from AT&T Georgia that will eliminate mandatory distribution of printed White Pages residential listing directories to 18 Georgia communities, including Albany.
PSC rules currently require phone companies to print and distribute yearly residential telephone directories. Under the amended rule, local carriers will not be obligated to distribute printed residential directories to communities with combined populations of 50,000 or more. However, if a customer requests a copy, the White Pages directory must be provided free of charge, though it can be provided either in print or electronic format.
AT&T contends that to continue to publish the residential White Pages would create a hardship on the company. However, in a written response to albanyCEO.com, they state that, as a public company, they can’t discuss financials, including what it costs to distribute the directories. AT&Ts request to the PSC also stated that not publishing the residential White Pages would have less of an impact on the environment. The company contends that White Pages are being used less than ever before.
“The Albany residential White Pages are eligible for the Consumer Choice Program, but AT&T has yet to make a decision as to whether or not to include them in the program,” said a written response from Stacey Harth, of Fleishman-Hillard, a public relations company responding to questions for AT&T Corporate Communications. “Although we do not have immediate plans to implement the program in Albany, we would like the flexibility to possibly introduce it at a later time.”
Proponents of AT&T’s request to the PSC say the residential White Pages is an outdated product, as many people have done away with their land lines, store numbers on cellphones and search for needed numbers on the computer. The residential White Pages does not list cellphone numbers. Supporters also contend the elimination of mandatory White Pages distribution will cut down on paper consumption.
One local independent phonebook publisher says his company will continue to provide what he believes is a necessary service for area residents. Gary Nevins, president/CEO of Plantation Publishing Co., Inc. is in his sixth year of distributing his phonebooks in Albany, Americus, Cordele and Moultrie. All told, he’s been in the business since 1980.
Nevins contends that AT&T wanted out from under the residential directory mandate because it’s costly without providing the advertising revenue of the Yellow Pages.
“That bothers me as a consumer…first because (AT&T) is still able to get paid what they are paid for local telephone service, but they’re getting out of having to produce the White Pages,” said Nevins.
In recent years, continued Nevins, White Pages has cut corners on production by moving to very small print and using onion skin-thin paper. “It’s very difficult for anybody to read, especially seniors. And unless you’re in your 20s or early 30s, a laptop isn’t something you are carrying around with you.”
Residential directories are especially important in rural areas, where studies have shown that 80 percent of residents rely on print directories compared to 20 percent utilizing computerized directories, Nevins claims. “While the trend is certainly moving in the direction of the Internet, it isn’t there yet,” he said.
“We’re going to have White Pages in our phonebooks. We commit to that going into the future. We feel it’s critical to our industry,” concluded Nevins, regarding his independently published directories.
Last year, 6.6 million directories were distributed across the state, including the White Pages and combined White and Yellow Pages directories. In communities where AT&T does end distribution of residential White Pages, customers wishing to receive a hard copy can make that request by calling 800-422-1955 or visiting www.att.com/mydirectories.