Need a Number? AT&T Wants to Drop White Pages Directories for Online

Posted September 28, 2007 4:06 p.m. EDT
Updated September 28, 2007 7:26 p.m. EDT

RALEIGH - Ma Bell doesn’t want to deliver you a white pages phone directory any more, and the Public Staff at the North Carolina Utilities Commission has questions about the idea.

AT&T, the new parent of Bell South, filed a request with the Utilities Commission on Friday seeking permission to halt distribution of the free directories. Instead, the nation’s largest phone company wants people to use online directories through the Internet, use an optional CD that would have the listings, or have people call and request a bound paper edition.

The idea was not greeted with enthusiasm by the Commission’s Public Staff.

“They have offered the option to delivery a directory if you call and request it,” said John Garrison of the Public Staff, “but if you wait to request it when you need the number it’s too late.”

Since not all people have access to the Internet, Garrison added, “That is a problem.”

The CD option also presents problems, Garrison cautioned. “It’s something else we have to look at completely,” he said.

AT&T is the first phone company to make such a request, but it did not come as a complete surprise, Garrison said.

“We have been talking with them about it,” he explained. “The specific details we did not know until they filed.”

The Public Staff had no specific opinion to offer “right now,” he added. However, the request is expected to be on the agenda for the Utilities Commission meeting on October 15. “We will be making a recommendation to the commission” at that time, Garrison said.

AT&T provides service across much of the Triangle, the Goldsboro and Wilmington areas as well as much of the Piedmont and western North Carolina.

The optional directory offering would be made in the Raleigh and Charlotte markets, AT&T said in the filing. Other areas would still receive directories.

A phone book containing business and government listings would still be delivered, AT&T said in the filing.

If the Utilities Commission accepts the proposal, AT&T said people who request delivery of a white pages book would receive one within 10 days.

Otherwise, phone listings would be found on two Web sites.

“These changes reflect AT&T’s commitment to responsible environmental stewardship and changing consumer preferences,” AT&T said in the filing.

Clifton Metcalf, an AT&T spokesman in Charlotte, told The Associated Press that the company wants to try the idea in North Carolina before expanding it elsewhere.

"The potential is just tremendous," Metcalf said. "We're responding to what we've heard from consumers about wanting choices. At the same time, we're trying to be good environmental stewards."

The utilities commission requires phone providers to deliver a directory about once every year. AT&T wants to change that requirement so that it is only required to "publish" the listings.

Metcalf said internal research shows that customers rarely use the White Pages as they increasingly turn to the Internet for basic phone listings. If all customers in Raleigh and Charlotte switched to the Web-based version, AT&T estimates that it will save 4 million pounds of waste each year.

Metcalf declined to say how much money the company will save by changing the service.