Hold Those Phone Books

Sacramento, Calif.-The California Public Utilities Commission ordered Pacific Bell, publisher of the state's most popular telephone directory, to withhold distribution of the latest edition containing numbers of Cox Cable San Diego telephony customers meant to remain unpublished.

The regulators sided with the cable company, which asked for a temporary restraining order until the PUC has time to mediate the dispute.

The Cox Communications Inc. unit realized early in May that listings it transmitted to PacBell for inclusion in the White Pages became corrupted, leading to the publication of numbers that consumers had wished to be unlisted.

Cox executives maintained that they want to pay to retrieve almost 500,000 directories already in circulation and to print revised directories. PacBell executives said they quoted Cox a price, and when Cox executives did not commit to a reprint in mid-May, the utility resumed distribution. The June 2 order halted that distribution.

Both companies will appear before the PUC June 12.

Regulators have previously had to oversee misprint remedies. In 1998, GTE Corp., the state's second-largest telephone provider, accidentally printed the names of thousands of its own customers who wished to remain unlisted. The PUC supervised remedial measures to make sure costs incurred by the utility were not passed through to ratepayers.