The Island Book telephone list hits a short circuit


Life in the era of Ma Bell, as the telephone giant was known, used to be so simple. One phone company, one phone book. That is no longer true in the age of smart phones and land lines served by multiple companies.

The switch by some Island subscribers from Verizon phone service to Comcast phone service produced an unexpected wrinkle for the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, publishers of The Island Book.

An unknown but significant number of Island Comcast customer telephone numbers were omitted from white pages listings in the 2012-2013 edition of the go-to telephone listing resource on the Island for the past 21 years.

The omissions produced a spate of queries and complaints to the phone companies and to the chamber since the book was published in June. Ironically, the chamber printed 20,000 copies of The Island Book this year, up 5,000 copies from the 2011 edition, to meet increased demand, executive director Nancy Gardella said last week.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the dropped listings are limited to Comcast customers. No Verizon customers appear to have been dropped from the database provided by Verizon and used by the Chamber for the residential listing content in its book.

Online data bases have virtually eliminated the once ubiquitous “white pages,” a listing of all residential phone numbers. Verizon no longer publishes a print residential telephone book, but continues to publish business listings, the yellow pages. Comcast does not publish a telephone book.

The Island Book is published in a six- by nine-inch format and contains residential (white pages) listings, commercial (yellow pages) listings and a voluminous section of blue pages that provide information, contacts and phone numbers for most every Island entity and organization relevant to Island living. Both the yellow pages and the blue reference section are produced by the chamber staff, Ms. Gardella said.

The system has worked like clockwork for years, Ms. Gardella said last week. “We’ve never, in my experience, had a problem of this magnitude,” she said. “There are always a few errors in a project of this size but nothing like this.”

This year that changed as dozens of Comcast customers called the Chamber and the phone companies seeking an explanation for their exclusion from The Island Book. Verizon and Comcast company spokesmen distanced their companies from the issue in several telephone calls over the past two weeks.

Verizon spokesman Phil Santoro said, “Comcast supplies us with their list. Whatever they supplied to us we passed on to the customer.”

Comcast provides Verizon with business telephone listings, according to a company spokesman. Residential listings are provided to a third-party vendor that Comcast uses to provide established phone books with residential listings. The spokesman who asked not to be identified said the Chamber never contacted Comcast for the residential list.

Ms. Gardella said that the chamber accepted responsibility for the errors. “We accept complete responsibility for the problem,” she said. “As we have in the past, we purchased the list from Verizon this year and there were some Comcast customers left out. For example, my Comcast phone number wasn’t in there, but several of our staff members, who are also Comcast customers, were included.

“Our intention was to do what we’ve done forever. In order to produce a phone book, we historically buy a white pages list from Verizon. At the end of the day, we didn’t ask the right questions, but we’ve never had a problem and we had no suspicion there would be a problem. In all honesty, I believe the people we dealt with at Verizon didn’t know there was a problem either.

“The fault, if there is any, is that we should have gotten it in writing that the list was complete. This is the first year that Comcast customers were left out. It’s extremely frustrating on our end. We have certainly gotten phone lots of calls from customers. We know we have to be more vigorous.”

When asked about a possible remedy, Ms. Gardella said there was none. “It’s an expensive project,” she said. “We cannot afford to reprint 20,000 copies, even if we are able to resolve the issue of dropped listings.”