City Council hopes to expand phone book opt-out program

Berkeley City Council members hope to make a program that allows residents to opt-out of phone book delivery more far reaching and effective by asking AT&T to honor opt-out requests.

At its meeting Tuesday, the council will consider a recommendation requesting the city manager write a letter to AT&T Yellow Pages urging their compliance with the program. The recommendation also asks the city manager to refer to Alameda County a similar opt-out program sponsored by the city of Seattle — an effort that has recorded over 180,000 opt-outs since being implemented last April.

Berkeley’s opt-out program, which was launched last March, is a collaboration between the city and nonprofit organization Catalog Choice that allows residents to select companies they no longer wish to receive advertisements from.

“Most people don’t have landlines anymore,” said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, one of the council members who sponsored the recommendation. “Students and poor people generally use cell phones and use them to look up numbers. On a global warming and climate change standpoint, it takes a lot of energy to make and send these phone books.”

Valley Yellow Pages has recently begun discussions with Catalog Choice regarding honoring residents’ opt-out requests. AT&T, however, has not.

“AT&T shouldn’t be sending phone books to people who don’t want them,” Wozniak said. “It should be a simple process to opt-out.”

A similar San Francisco program that will go into effect next May requires phone book publishers to deliver only to residents who opt-in, however, at least one phone book company has already filed a lawsuit against it.

“(Berkeley’s program is) a voluntary program. It’s not mandatory like the one in San Francisco,” Wozniak said. “We’re trying to work with these companies.”

In light of the move away from landlines, Councilmember Kriss Worthington supports an opt-in option instead of an opt-out.

“New students have to constantly opt out and by the time they do opt out the deadline may have already passed,” Worthington said. “It would be simpler if entire housing categories of the city have an opt-in and we could make (the phones books) available if they want them. The current program does not go far enough environmentally or technologically.”