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Our Perspective on Seattle’s Unconstitutional Phone Book Law

In Seattle today, the Yellow Pages Association, Dex One and SuperMedia jointly filed a law suit to overturn a new law that we believe restricts Yellow Pages publishers’ right to free speech.

Our suit essentially says that the ordinance violates the First Amendment, which prohibits government from licensing or exercising advance approval of the press, from directing publishers what to publish and to whom they may communicate, and from assessing fees for the privilege of publishing. 

This is a path that I wish we didn’t have to take. We tried working with the City of Seattle on a solution that would have helped the city accomplish its goal of reducing unwanted directory delivery, with no cost to the taxpayers and with in a way that would have easily integrated with publishers’ current systems.

Unfortunately, the ordinance that the city passed unfairly singles out the Yellow Pages industry with regulations and fees that are not imposed on other media, including discriminatory license fees for the right to publish and unprecedented “advance recovery fees” that previously have been limited to toxic or hard-to-recycle materials. The ordinance also mandates that publishers turn over consumers’ private information to the City of Seattle and imposes obligatory cover language dictated by the city government.

We agree that residents should have a choice of whether they receive a Yellow Pages directory, but the Seattle City Council has passed a law that violates the most basic freedom in the United States. Even as we oppose the ordinance in court, we are moving forward with plans to provide a first-class, national consumer choice website at www.yellowpagesoptout.com. This website will easily enable consumers to opt-out of unwanted phonebooks and will add no costs to taxpayers anywhere – in Seattle or across the country.

If every city in the U.S. decides to build its own opt-out system, the end result won’t be good for consumers and will make compliance for publishers extremely difficult. I am personally committed to making our consumer choice website at www.yellowpagesoptout.com the standard for delivery requests. We can do this better than cities can, and in a way that doesn’t put our government on a slippery slope of taxing media for the “privilege” to communicate with the public.

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