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Waste Watch: Do we still need phone books?

Updated: Wednesday, July 10 2013, 02:48 PM EDT

Rochester, N.Y. - This month, Frontier Communications is mailing out 500,000 copies of the Frontier Pages, often referred to as the Yellow Pages, to the Rochester area. 

13WHAM has heard from dozens of viewers who say they no longer use the phone book, and consider such widespread distribution to be wasteful.

Many customers aren't aware that they can opt out of receiving the directory. Opting out takes about three minutes, and can be done by visiting YellowPagesOptOut.com.

This week, Frontier's Desiree DeMananicor stressed that they're trying to provide exactly what their customers want.

"We don't want to be bothersome and give people something that they don't want," DeManincor said. "We don't want to print the books and assume the paper, nor the expense. We would appreciate it if people didn't want a book that they go to the Yellows Pages opt-out site."

She added, "For every customer who opts out, we have hundreds who call and tell us they want the directory and value the free service." DeManincor notes that Frontier prints the website for opting out on the book's front cover.

However, that website is not easy to find on the cover. It's in tiny print on the very bottom of the cover, which could be why so few customers seem to know about it. 

We asked four women at Marketplace Mall if they were aware of the Opt Out option. None were aware, and one added, "Now that you've shown me, I'm going to go home and opt out, because this it's such a waste." 

Frontier reports that fewer than 1,500 customers have opted out of receiving the Yellow Pages in the Rochester area. That's three one-thousandths of one percent. Even a basic, unscientific survey indicates there should be tens of thousands more customers opting out.

So who pays for the books? 13WHAM spoke to many customers who told us they immediately put the directory in the recycling bin. 

Frontier could not provide an exact cost on printing each book, explaining that the cost varies each year. And they stressed that their goal is to have advertising cover as much of the cost as possible. 

But it's possible that the company is left to assume millions of dollars in printing costs, and while Frontier says those costs are not passed directly on to customers, it's possible customers bear some of the burden.

But before customers who don't want the directories vent frustration at Frontier, they should know that Frontier is beholden by law to send the books. The New York State Public Service Commission mandates the distribution of Yellow Pages each years. 

For now, the only way around that is when customers choose to opt out. If more customers opt out, Frontier could eventually petition the government, asking to change the Yellow Pages from "opt-out" to "opt in." That would mean only customers requesting the books would receive them.

And that's exactly what happened with Frontier's White Pages residential directory. Last year, Frontier asked for a change and were granted one by the government. That means they only send residential directories to customers who request one.

But for now, Frontier believes the low number of customers opting out of the Yellow Pages is a sign that most customers still want the books. Customers like Kate McClintic insist that's wrong. "I picked it up and I said to my husband, 'I haven't used this in years. Have you?' Into the recycling bin."

Danielle Wingerden says she doesn't know anyone who still uses the phone book. "We use the internet. We have directories in our phones," she said. 

But she didn't know about the opt-out scenario, and so her Yellow Pages arrived in early March. "It sat on our front step for two weeks in the snow, and then when we started to trip on it, we brought it inside, and threw it in the bin."

Waste Watch: Do we still need phone books?

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