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Just Call Me. Or Not.

Steven Titch
June 15, 2008, 12:58pm

Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Fry today embarks on a meditation (subscription required) on the disappearance of phone directories–once omnipresent in American households. Part of the reason, of course, is the substitution of wireless for wireline as the phone service of choice. This trend skews heavily toward younger Americans, about 34.5 percent of adults aged 25-29 live in wireless-only households, Fry reports. Interestingly, these numbers come from a survey commissioned by the Center for Disease Control, not the FCC. The migration to wireless has been matched by a marked lack of enthusiasm for traditional "White Pages" directories.
"Why not? Because in a number of important ways, the cellphone is more of a break with traditional telephone service than it is an evolution of it. And those differences will only become more apparent in the coming years. The biggest reason wireless-only adults don't need a directory is that they're reachable in other ways -- through their homepages, blogs, MySpace and Facebook outposts and of course through their email. Twenty years ago, the telephone was the only practical way of reaching someone -- and in that situation, a directory of telephone users was obviously crucial. Now, the phone is just one method in a range of communications options, and often it's not the best one. It seems like having a phone in our pocket would make it a more important device, but the rise of other ways of communicating have made that phone far less important."
Fry's comments about the changing ways people communicate are critical, especially as regulators continue to treat phone service providers as if they are monopolies or duopolies. Hence, we get discrimatory taxes, unlevel playing fields, regulatory arbitrage and other unintended consequences. Americans have far more methods at their disposal to reach each other aside from a telephone – be it wireline or wireless. Unfortunately, the policy climate often refuses to see this.


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