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AT&T seeks to end paper White Pages in Louisiana

(CBS/AP) NEW ORLEANS - In the era of mobile telephones, AT&T Inc. is trying to rid itself of a long-standing tradition in Louisiana: the familiar white pages of residential phone listings dropped on front porches and driveways.

The staff of the Louisiana Public Service Commission has recommended a plan under which white pages would be sent only to customers who specifically request the directory. AT&T customers also could request a CD-ROM of home listings for computer use. Many commissioners say they support the plan.

"Unwanted and unused directories are a waste of natural resources and scarce capital," Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta said. "Savings from printing directories only for consumers who actually want them can free up capital for increased development of consumer DSL and broadband services, in both traditional and cellular based modalities. Consumer choice allows for smart management of resources."

The commission could vote on the proposal May 23.

The program wouldn't affect the yellow pages, which is advertiser-supported, or the business version of the white pages, both of which would be delivered to all customers.

"The traditional residential white page telephone directory no longer provides the same utility it once did as customers are now turning less and less to the residential white pages directory and are looking to online and other resources for listing information," AT&T said in its request to the commission.

At least one Public Service Commissioner, Foster Campbell, opposes the request, calling it "a moneymaking deal" for AT&T.

"What do you think people are going to do when you take their telephone directory away? They're going to call 411 and pay $1.50. If they don't have a computer, they're going to call 411," Campbell said.

AT&T spokeswoman Kim Allen said that in 75 of company's markets across the country where white pages delivery is optional, less than 1 percent of its customers requested the directory. She said at least 19 states have removed mandatory directory delivery.

AT&T would rather use the savings to upgrade broadband services and wireless services in the state, Allen said. Allen would not say how much AT&T spends annually on its white pages and how many customers the company has in Louisiana, citing competitive reasons. She also was unable to say how many cities might be affected the PSC approves the company's request.

But Campbell said rural residents often have trouble getting adequate Internet service to access online telephone directories.

"The phone book is almost like the Bible for many people, and it is a security device. People keep it by the phone and in it they write down the numbers of their doctor, their children, the sheriff, the ambulance service and other important numbers," Campbell said.

Public Service Commissioner Clyde Holloway said he was leaning in favor of the proposal.

"I think it would be good environmentally. Every school I know goes through collecting phone books for recycling," Holloway said.

Commissioner Jimmy Field said that to get his vote, the plan would have to be amended so a request for the directory is renewed automatically on an annual basis until the customer no longer wants the book.

Commissioner Lambert Boissiere did not return a call for comment.

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