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Bell Atlantic Calls AT&T Survey 'Unmitigated Sham'
Long-Distance/Cable Giant's Actions 'Absolutely Unconscionable'
September 20, 1999
RICHMOND, Va. - Bell Atlantic officials today denounced as "an unmitigated sham" a telecommunications survey being circulated to Virginia lawmakers.
"Absolutely unconscionable -- that's the only way to describe AT&T's actions," said Hugh Stallard, president and CEO of Bell Atlantic - Virginia. AT&T sent the two-page survey Sept. 1 to General Assembly members, under the guise of a front group known a
s "Virginians for Local Telephone Competition (VLTC)."
"AT&T is lurking behind a front organization that it created," Stallard added. "The group claims to represent Virginia consumers while it's taking its marching orders from AT&T."
Aside from the questionable nature of the survey's sponsor, Stallard said the survey questions themselves are loaded and highly misleading. "This survey could have been written by a crafty lawyer who can always elicit the desired response from any questi
One question in the survey asks legislators if they "favor reforms in the telecommunications industry that would open the local phone market to full and fair competition...."
"Who wouldn't favor full and fair competition?" Stallard asked, offering follow-up questions of his own:
"Do you favor full and fair competition in the local and long-distance business? Do you agree that AT&T should not selfishly guard its long-distance empire by fighting Bell Atlantic's entry into that market, thereby preventing customers from receiving ea
sy-to-understand and economical long-distance rates?"
Stallard said AT&T is purposefully staying out of Virginia's local residential phone market, realizing that its entry into the local business would likely signal approval for Bell Atlantic to compete in long distance.
The survey also took issue with the proposed Bell Atlantic - GTE merger, which has received the approval of 30 states and the U.S. Department of Justice. The survey's question reads: "Would you oppose the Bell Atlantic - GTE merger, if you knew that thi
s merger gives Bell Atlantic control of 92 percent of the telephone lines in Virginia and one-third of the telephone lines in the country?"
Stallard suggested rewriting the question as follows:
"Would you support the merger if you knew that it would result in the elimination of 367 long-distance routes in Virginia and guarantee the capital investment of $1.75 billion in the state? Furthermore, what if you knew the merger would result in acceler
ated deployment of new technologies and price reductions for our most rural customers?"
Bell Atlantic and GTE have made the commitments to Virginia which will ensure that this merger will not jeopardize service quality or prices. "And we did it out in the open, using our own names," Stallard said.
The VLTC front group and its tactics are nothing new. AT&T has a long history of developing similar organizations in other states, most notably New York and Pennsylvania.
"Once the public finds out who these people really are, they immediately lose credibility," Stallard said. "What could AT&T be afraid of? Why doesn't it come out of hiding and speak openly about the issues?
"If AT&T is so quick to deceive, one has to wonder what other tricks we can expect in the future," he
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