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If the yellow pages people have anything to do with it, unwanted phonebooks are going to be hard to kill.

Yesterday, a yellow pages trade association announced that it’s suing the city of Seattle, which recently handed a victory to the nation’s anti-phonebook activists by setting up a system to allow residents to opt out of phonebook delivery.

A state bill in California attempted something similar earlier this year, but phonebook lobbyists fought it hard. State senators, including all but one from the San Diego area, killed the bill.

The Seattle law doesn’t go as far as some proponents hoped: It doesn’t require phonebook companies to stop delivering their products unless residents and businesses ask for them. But it was still too much for the Yellow Pages Association, which says its free-speech rights are in jeopardy because the law violates the First Amendment’s guarantees.

The new suit says the Seattle law is unconstitutional because, among other things, it levies license fees on phonebooks, tells publishers what to publish (it requires phonebooks to include information about opting out of delivery) and allows the enforcing of “the desire of citizens to avoid communications.”

The association opposes the Seattle law’s fine of up to $125 on phone companies that deliver directories to people who chose to not receive them.

The association says it supports the right of residents to choose to not receive phonebook delivery. But saying no to phonebooks is still a cumbersome process.

The association does offer a website at www.yellowpagesoptout.com, but it does nothing more than provide phone numbers for phonebook companies in your area, and it says some numbers aren’t available. It’s your job to call up the companies — several of which deliver phonebooks in San Diego — and tell them to stop delivering directories.

The association says the site will be upgraded next year and allow people to stop all phonebook delivery at once.

As we reported in August, there don’t appear to be any current restrictions on phonebook distribution in the San Diego region.

Critics of the distribution of directories, both here and elsewhere, think phonebooks are wasteful, unneeded and unfriendly to the environment. The online magazine Slate has referred to their slow demise as the “the most absurdly drawn-out death throes of any advertising medium ever known,” while a new headline on Fast Company’s site says “Die, Phone Book, Die.”

Last August, our commenters were divided about the value of phonebooks. “Whenever I see one of those useless things on my doorstep, I take it right to the blue recycle bin… right where it belongs,” one wrote. But others wrote that they appreciate the printed directories because they save money on information calls and offer an alternative to the internet.

“Phonebooks won’t die until most of the people like me do, and they no longer service a market big enough to justify them,” one commenter wrote.

Meanwhile, white pages — the old-fashioned directories of names, businesses and phone numbers — are under fire. The Associated Press reported this month that that New York, Florida and Pennsylvania have approved a phone company’s request to allow it to stop delivering printed white page directories.

Several other states have lifted the white pages requirements or are thinking about it. California still requires phone companies to deliver residential white pages directories, and yellow pages directories sometimes come along for the ride.

Please contact Randy Dotinga directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.

Randy Dotinga

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com...

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