Printed telephone directories are, for obvious reasons, on the way out. Yellow pages and business listings still make money but white pages – residential listings – don’t. FairPoint, the phone company in New Hampshire, announced last spring that it would stop delivering white pages to all customers. The lack of cell phone numbers and numbers for people who get voice service through their cable company made them increasingly useless.
You may have noticed an article today in the statewide paper, the Union-Leader, about that same issue – apparently the Manchester books have started arriving and readers were calling the paper to complain.
Here’s a story I wrote in April, which includes some details of the Fairpoint-Comcast tussle over listings. The above photo, by Don Himsel of The Telegraph, contrasting the 2009 and 2015 phone books for Nashua, accompanied it.
April 25, 2015:
The long decline of the phone book, once a staple of homes and businesses but increasingly irrelevant in the online era, is continuing with the announcement by FairPoint that it will no longer automatically send the books to all of its landline customers.
As of May 1, residential white pages will only be available on request, the company said in fliers inside its most recent bills, but both residential and business listings will be on the company website. The printed white pages will be free for FairPoint customers who ask for them by calling 1-877-243-8339.
“It’s part of what’s happening in the marketplace. People are just not using them as much as they used to,” Jeffrey Nevins, a FairPoint spokesman, said of printed phone books. “People are depending upon online resources to get numbers and information like this. There are so many different places that they can get them.”
FairPoint residential and business listings will be entirely online in May, at fairpoint.com/whitepages.
The book will also be thin. In 2009, for example, the first full year that FairPoint was the state’s phone company, the Nashua residential listings were 128 pages. In the 2015 Nashua area book, they take up just 30 pages – a decline of more than 75 percent in six years.
The yellow pages have also shrunk, although not by as much – from 578 pages in 2009 to 260 pages this year, a decline of 55 percent.
The decision by FairPoint’s northern New England division to stop automatic shipment of phone books applies only to New Hampshire and Maine because the change is allowed under telephone deregulation in those states. Vermont still requires that the local phone company provide phone books to all customers.
The move isn’t really a surprise: FairPoint announced last year that the phone book would be the last one that customers would receive automatically.
Around the country, many phone companies, including giants such as AT&T, have stopped automatically providing free white pages. Yellow pages, or business listings, are more available because of the advertising revenue they bring in.
The importance of phone books began to decline when cellphones started displacing landline phones, since wireless numbers were never included in phone books.
FairPoint’s white pages took a big hit in 2013 when Comcast stopped giving FairPoint the numbers of people who get voice service through their cable modems. As The Telegraph reported at the time, the Nashua white pages listings were reduced by more than half, from 130 pages to 60 pages. FairPoint said about 240,000 phone numbers were removed from books in the three northern New England states because of Comcast’s decision.
Comcast offered to sell the listings, but FairPoint declined. As the local regulated telephone provider, FairPoint is required to let other providers to list their phone numbers in the book for free, but isn’t required to buy them.
The current white pages still don’t include Comcast numbers. The yellow pages, or business listings, do include Comcast numbers, however.
FairPoint bought Verizon’s landlines in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont in 2008. These days, FairPoint’s business depends at least as much on high-speed Internet service and other services, including “backhaul” connections between cellphone towers and the phone network, as it does on income from traditional phone service via what is known as the switched network.