AT&T Advertising & Publishing’s effort to assuage environmental concerns in North Carolina by curtailing print residential White Pages distribution has fizzled out as utility commissioners in that state have balked at the plan.
The Raleigh News & Observer reported today that AT&T has withdrawn its proposal to eliminate residential White Pages delivery except to those that request print copies of the book. The decision follows an Oct. 15 hearing at which utility commissioners voiced suspicions that AT&T was using environmental concerns to mask its true motive, which was to cut costs by eliminating residential White Pages delivery. According to the article, commissioners noted that AT&T was not making any plans to cut distribution of print Yellow Pages, a known profit center.
Commissioners further reasoned that cutting print White Pages delivery will drive more calls to AT&T’s directory assistance service, hence another hidden motive behind the plan.
Our view is simple. Yes, there is gambling going on in Rick’s Cafe. AT&T and any other publisher would prefer to contribute to the effort to reduce solid waste by eliminating a cost center — White Pages — rather than a profit center — Yellow Pages. It doesn’t seem unreasonable for a publisher to prefer this route, and the commissioners are misguided in seeing something nefarious in this effort. Take that deal and make some progress in eliminating solid waste.
The commissioners seem to be taking the position that AT&T must make a financial sacrifice in the cause of reducing the amount of paper floating around. This is unrealistic, and it ignores the fact that print Yellow Pages, while often perceived to be obsolete, still drives a lot of leads to local businesses in North Carolina and elsewhere. The obsolescence argument is much more on target with print residential White Pages.
Maybe what AT&T proposed was a little too clever, leaving the commissioners feeling like the company was trying to pull a fast one. But in the end, the idea makes sense. Opposing the elimination of White Pages just because it benefits AT&T suggests that the industry has a tough road ahead in making what should be an obvious concession in the name of environmental stewardship. If regulators insist on the elimination of print Yellow Pages, the industry will fight it all the way, and little if anything will be achieved.