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Kill the '00' Ads, Bell Atlantic Warns AT&T
Newspaper Ads Mislead Customers, Disparage
Bell Atlantic Directory Assistance Service
September 15, 1998
Jim Smith ,
NEW YORK -- AT&T must stop running "false and misleading"
newspaper ads for its "00" directory assistance service or face
further action by Bell Atlantic, according to a letter sent by Bell
Atlantic to the long distance company.
The newspaper ads that have run in major East Coast markets
disparage Bell Atlantic's services and are damaging in three ways:
A huge red "X" printed over the numbers 4-1-1 and 555-1212
used to access local directory assistance falsely implies "that neither
4-1-1 nor 555-1212 can or should be used any longer." This "is
completely false and results in immediate and quantifiable damage
to us and to consumers who follow the directions given in red," the
Bell Atlantic letter said.
The ads assert only in a tiny footnote that "normal directory
assistance charges apply." They are misleading because AT&T
charges 95 cents for local and long distance searches, while Bell
Atlantic's local directory assistance service costs as little as one-
fifth AT&T's price. The ads ignore the fact that customers in most
Bell Atlantic states get a number of free directory assistance calls
each month and that Bell Atlantic directory assistance service from
payphones is free everywhere except in Pennsylvania, where it costs
The ads falsely imply that Bell Atlantic's service is inferior to
AT&T's, suggesting that AT&T's operators are more patient and
can provide more accurate listings with less information.
"Our directory assistance service does not suffer from these
supposed defects," the Bell Atlantic letter states. "AT&T falsely
disparages our service and misleads consumers when it implies that
its new service is superior to ours on these points."
Bell Atlantic "is fully determined to defend its rights and intends to
take all measures necessary to do so," according to the letter.
Last week, Bell Atlantic warned consumers that the ads might "lure
customers into an expensive trap" where they'd pay up to five times
the cost of a directory assistance call to Bell Atlantic for the same
The warning from Terry Beggy, Bell Atlantic marketing vice
president for operator services, pointed out that the "00" service
AT&T is advertising in newspapers, on the radio and on TV is
available only over phones which have AT&T's long distance
service. On all other phones, callers who dial "00" will receive their
long distance company's operator, not this AT&T service, she
According to Beggy, Bell Atlantic's operators continue a long
tradition of fast, accurate service using leading edge search
technologies and extremely accurate databases. In the near future,
they will offer numbers for listings anywhere in the country.
Bell Atlantic is at the forefront of the new communications and
information industry. With more than 41 million telephone access
lines and more than seven million wireless customers worldwide,
Bell Atlantic companies are premier providers of advanced wireline
voice and data services, market leaders in wireless services and the
world's largest publishers of directory information. Bell Atlantic
companies are also among the world's largest investors in high-
growth global communications markets, with operations and
investments in 23 countries.