Betty Carstensen is 89, doesn't use a computer and can't figure out how to use the iPad where her son stored all her phone numbers.
So she keeps a hard-copy phone book tucked under her kitchen radio, a lifeline to the world outside her home on the outskirts of Fremont, where she lives alone.
Yet Carstensen, a retired grocery store butcher who started cutting meat when the men left for World War II, knows someday the iconic white pages will no longer appear at her doorstep.
"I understand that because my son never uses the phone book, he uses the smart — whatever that is — the smartphone."
The printed directory's demise might not be far off.
On Tuesday, the Nebraska Public Service Commission, which regulates phone companies in the state, gave CenturyLink permission to stop delivering phone books to homes in the many communities it serves across Nebraska. The books will still be available upon request.
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Other phone companies, such as Windstream in Lincoln, will need to apply separately if they want to ditch their paper directories. A Windstream spokesman said this week the company has no current plans to do so.
But Cullen Robbins, the Public Service Commission's director of communications, said Tuesday's order sets a precedent that could soon be applied statewide.
The goal is to cut back on the material and environmental costs associated with publishing stacks of hard-copy phone books each year.
"There's an enormous expense in delivering these, and they just end up in the landfill," said Loel Brooks, regulatory counsel for Dex Media, which publishes phone books for CenturyLink.
About half of Nebraska households are now wireless-only, so their numbers aren't listed in the book, and online directories have become a more popular option for people with internet access.
That leaves gaping holes in the white pages' age-old offerings and audience.
Brooks said virtually no one complained after CenturyLink was allowed to stop delivering phone books in Omaha in 2013. Last year, less than 1 percent of customers in that area requested a print copy of the white pages.
The new order applies to CenturyLink's other Nebraska markets, including Fremont, Grand Island, Norfolk, North Platte, McCook and much of the Panhandle.
It's now up to the phone company to decide which customers will keep receiving full printed directories, which will receive only business listings — which can still generate revenue — and which will stop getting phone books altogether.
Environmental groups have bemoaned the circulation of unwanted, unused phone books for more than a decade, raising concerns with the solid waste produced when the books aren't recycled as well as with the felling of trees used to make them, although phone books are typically printed on recycled paper or paper produced using sawmill waste.
"We support waste reduction, and having a telephone book just show up on your front porch just creates waste," said Heather Creevan of the local nonprofit group WasteCap Nebraska, which seeks to eliminate waste.
The state's major telephone companies have long been required to circulate new alphabetical directories at least once a year.
The rule applied only to incumbent phone companies like Windstream, not newer competitors like Time Warner Cable (now Spectrum) or Allo.
But the written rule never specifically required doorstep delivery of phone books, only that directories be made available to all customers free of charge.
The Public Service Commission now says publishing numbers online will suffice, as long as printed copies are still available upon request.
Commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the new interpretation of its rules after CenturyLink and Dex Media requested the change this summer.
CenturyLink customers who no longer receive a directory automatically will be notified through an insert in their phone bill, which will include a toll-free number to call to request a hard copy.
It's just another sign of the times for Carstensen, who still reads her hard-copy newspaper each day — only now it arrives by mail.
"As we get older, we're going to outlive all of the stuff we're normally used to," she said. "That's the pits."
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