White Pages phonebooks fading away

The White Pages phone book, which helped connect the country for more than a century, is facing up to the fact that it no longer matters in most households.

The latest sign of its shrunken role is a tentative deal in Missouri that would let AT&T stop automatic delivery to homes and businesses on the Missouri side of the Kansas City and St. Louis areas.

Customers could still request a directory, but only a small fraction are expected to do so. Delivery of AT&T’s Yellow Pages would not be affected, and there is no plan yet to stop automatic delivery in Kansas.

The Missouri Public Service Commission, which must decide whether to accept the proposal, will hold a public hearing Monday in Kansas City. The plan is part of an agreement between the phone company and other parties, including the commission staff and the Missouri Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers.

The move comes amid changes over the last few years that have wrung much of the usefulness out of the White Pages.

There are now 4.3 million wireless subscribers in Missouri, compared with 3.2 million wireline phones, but wireless numbers are not included in the directories. Some consumers have wireless and wired phones. Online phone directories, including at least one offered by AT&T, have become more popular. And people who have cell phones – even if they mainly use a landline – have an easy way to store and retrieve phone numbers.

AT&T last year stopped automatic delivery of the phone book in Atlanta, with the promise of giving one to any customer who still wanted it. By April, only 1 percent of its customers had asked for one.

Dropping automatic delivery is “an idea whose time has come,” said Kerry Hibbs, an AT&T spokesman.

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