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Thursday, April 18, 2013 - Page updated at 08:00 p.m.

State panel decides phone books are no longer necessary

By Jim Camden
The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA — Someday soon, small children could have trouble reaching the dining-room table. Doors will blow shut with the breeze. Well-muscled men will search in vain for something to tear in half to prove their strength. Navin Johnson will not jump for joy with the delivery of a new phone book.

The ubiquitous phone book will stop being so, well, ubiquitous.

By order of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC), phone companies are no longer required to deliver the white pages to every subscriber. Customers may have to ask for a phone book from their carrier, or they may ask the company not to deliver one and look up numbers online.

The commission, which regulates phone service in Washington, removed the decades-old requirement in a nod to the 21st century.

The phone book is something that people of a certain age grew up with, said Marilyn Meehan, a UTC spokeswoman.

It served as a booster chair for tots too short to reach the table or did duty as a door stop. Being listed in the book was a rite of passage that marked a young adult’s move into an apartment or home.

In the movie “The Jerk,” Steve Martin as Navin Johnson jumped for joy at his listing, shouting, “The new phone book’s here! Page 73. Johnson, Navin R. I’m somebody now!”

That got big laughs in 1979. In the days of smartphones and online search engines, it might cause kids to scratch their heads.

Phone books may gather dust or go directly into the recycling bin.

“In the age of the Internet ... the need for a published directory, mass distributed, has gone by the wayside,” said Brian Thomas, a UTC analyst. “The companies are free to do what they want to do.”

Some companies may continue to deliver a phone book to every customer. Some may deliver to customers unless they have asked to be taken off a list. Some may deliver only to customers who ask for a phone book.

The ruling covers only the white pages, the alphabetical listings of residential and business phones, published by the community’s phone company.

Yellow-pages books, with businesses listed by category and varying sizes of ads, aren’t affected by the ruling.

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