The era of the White Pages is ending in Minnesota.
The state Public Utilities Commission on Monday unanimously voted to allow CenturyLink, the state’s biggest provider of phone service, to stop mandatory distribution of residential phone books. The company must still make the phone book available to consumers who request one.
The decision came just a few weeks before CenturyLink and the firm that publishes its directories, DexMedia Inc., would have published the next edition of the 350-page Minneapolis White Pages.
The firms will now be able to print far fewer copies of the directory — and far fewer will likely end up with recyclers or in landfills.
The rise of cellphones, the numbers for which aren’t listed in phone books, has rendered the White Pages far less useful. As well, people can look up phone numbers via Web-based directories. And many people have grown accustomed to keeping large quantities of phone numbers on lists shared between their computers, smartphones and other mobile gadgets.
Though Monday’s decision only applied to CenturyLink, the PUC is already far down the path of a rule that would apply to all phone companies across the state. The commission in 2012 allowed Frontier Communications to give residential phone books only to Minnesota customers who ask.
CenturyLink and Dex, seeing the direction the PUC was heading, asked for a variance ahead of the final rule, which is likely to be set next spring or summer. In addition to printing 270,000 books for Minneapolis, with a collective 94 million pages, the companies also soon expect to print new White Pages for St. Paul.
“We’re trying to make sure we didn’t have to end up giving a whole bunch of directories to people who don’t want them,” said Greg Ludvigsen, a St. Paul attorney who represented CenturyLink and Dex. “Many people who get them immediately recycle them.”
In other states, CenturyLink has found that, when given the option, only about 1 percent of customers ask for the White Pages. Demand is far higher for the business and government directories, or Yellow Pages, which Minnesota and most states continue to require phone companies to distribute.
Since 2008, residents in the Twin Cities and other parts of the state have been able to opt out of delivery of the Yellow Pages. Businesses, particularly smaller retail outlets and service providers, and government agencies encourage phone companies and regulators to maintain the Yellow Pages in printed form.