Update on Our Efforts to Protect Yellow Pages Delivery in Seattle and San Francisco
March 23, 2012 | Contributed by: Amy Healy
As many of you know, despite extensive work to demonstrate our commitment to consumer choice and sustainability, the Yellow Pages industry has been targeted in Seattle and San Francisco with government regulations restricting publishers’ ability to deliver directories to consumers. We’re now at an important crossroads in both cases.
In late 2010, the Local Search Association joined with Dex One and SuperMedia to file suit to overturn a new Seattle ordinance that restricts Yellow Pages publishers’ right to free speech. The ordinance unfairly singles out Yellow Pages with regulations and fees that are not imposed on other media, including license fees and advance recovery fees. The ordinance also ignores our industry’s national consumer choice website, www.YellowPagesOptOut.com, in favor of a new duplicative and unnecessary website launched by the City that does not protect residents’ privacy.
We are waiting for a decision that may come any day from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on an appeal we filed in response to the Seattle District Court’s decision upholding Seattle’s ordinance. The three-judge appeals court panel heard oral argument in Pasadena, Calif. on February 9. During the argument, the City of Seattle abandoned its claim that the ordinance protects the privacy of residents and the judges appeared skeptical of the City’s environmental claims about directories as well. The Court questioned both sides extensively on whether Yellow Pages could be treated differently from newspapers and other advertising-supported print media.
Last June, we made the decision to file suit against the City and County of San Francisco, the Board of Supervisors and Mayor Edwin Lee in an effort to overturn the city’s controversial new law, which effectively bans the distribution of Yellow Pages. The ordinance’s onerous opt-in requirements make the cost of publishing directories nearly impossible. In our suit, we emphasized how the ordinance limits our right to free speech and disenfranchises local businesses and residents without Internet access.
On March 7, the City of San Francisco filed a motion to stay all proceedings in the litigation challenging its ordinance until the Seattle case is decided by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, or October 15, 2012, whichever occurs first. During this period, the City has agreed not to enforce its ordinance. According to the City, a decision by the Court of Appeals in favor of our industry in Seattle will like “dispose of this case” as well. On March 9, the Local Search Association filed a response opposing the stay and urging quick action on our motion to immediately enjoin enforcement of the ordinance. We pointed out that federal courts are required to give priority to preliminary injunction motions and that the Local Search Association’s motion has been pending for almost six months. We also noted that the City now agrees that no harm will come from granting an injunction. We expect that the Court may rule on the City’s request in the coming days.
We look forward to what we hope will be favorable outcomes in both Seattle and San Francisco. Our advertisers in these markets depend on Yellow Pages advertising to bring in business, and consumers rely on Yellow Pages to help them find and shop from local businesses. While we wait for these decisions, it is difficult for us to continue to do our job of supporting local businesses and Yellow Pages employees’ jobs hang in the balance.
While these cases move forward, we will continue to work with local municipalities to illustrate how our industry-led consumer choice and sustainability programs achieve better outcomes than legislation that limits our ability to compete competitively and for local businesses to get found by consumers.