By James Lomuscio
The directories, be they Yellow Book, Yellow Pages or Frontier Yellow Pages, arrive unsolicited annually in driveways. Many residents welcome them, but others in the internet age see them as a bulky, hard copy versions of spam.
The latter group has prompted a proposed an Unsolicited Bulky Mail Ordinance scheduled to have its first reading at the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) on Tuesday.
Cosponsored by RTM members Jeff Wieser, Liz Milwe and Matthew Mandell, the proposed ordinance says its purpose is “to establish standards for the placement of unsolicited, bulky printed material on private property in order to protect the public health, safety and welfare of residents of Westport and to protect and promote the environmental quality of the town.”
While aimed at business directories, the proposal targets any document of more than 100 pages not delivered through the U.S. Postal Service. That could include free community newspapers, such as the Minuteman if it swelled to 100 pages during the holiday season.
On that one delivery that could be a problem, Wieser said, adding that typical, 50-page newspapers would not be affected.
The proposed ordinance also included fines of $100 for each violation, fines not to exceed $10,000, if the bulk mail company does not heed residents’ requests to stop sending them their publications.
It also says that any unsolicited, bulky material have no less that 20 percent of its cover or packaging contain a statement that the resident has the option of not receiving the material, plus a toll-free number, mailing address or web address to contact.
The proposed ordinance continues that even if a resident does not opt out, the distributor must retrieve within 14 days of delivery any material that residents do not pick up.
“If someone says I don’t want those, we as the town are saying that we’re protecting you,” Wieser said. “We’re basically giving them an option.”
Wieser stressed that Westport is not alone. He said the proposal is similar to an ordinance in place in Weston. Stamford has a similar one, too, he said.
Asked if there would be First Amendment concerns, if the ordinance could be seen as an attempt to quash the dissemination of information, Mandell said, “That’s taking it too far.” He said that such issues were raised by the publishers five months ago when the ordinance was being drafted.
“We were lobbied pretty heavily,” Mandell said. “They flew in lobbyists from Texas to prevent us from doing this. They’re fighting for their lives because this is clearly a dying industry, and they’re trying to hang on to it as long as they can.”
But from a business perspective, he said, the opt-out allows the publisher to save on printing costs and reach a more receptive audience.
“This is going to be a plus for the businesses taking out ads in these books because the people who get them are the people who want them,” Mandell said. “Instead of paying for an extravagant number, instead of printing 10,000 copies, they’ll print 7,000 for the people who really want them.
“Our goal is to make sure that those who want to get it, get it, and those who don’t want to get it don’t get it,” he added.
In 2012, the the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down an ordinance in Seattle, Washington regarding Yellow Pages.
The ordinance required Yellow Pages directories to obtain permits, pay a fee for each distributed directory, establish an opt-out registry, and advertise the opt-out registry on directories’ front covers.
The Ninth Circuit found that Yellow Pages directories deserve full First Amendment protection and that the Seattle ordinance violated it.