And Now, a Word from Verizon

Opinion: From the world of Verizon Wireless come audible complaints that some of CEO Ivan Seidenberg's remarks about consumers' expectations of mobile phone service were over-reported while others were not heard.

From the world of Verizon Wireless come audible complaints that someone was not listening carefully to recent comments made by CEO Ivan Seidenberg regarding consumers elevated expectations of mobile telephone service.

The San Francisco Chronicle last week quoted Seidenberg as saying consumers have "unrealistic expectations about a wireless service working everywhere. Why in the world would you think your [cell] phone would work in your house? The customer has come to expect so much. They want it to work in the elevator; they want it to work in the basement."

Not surprisingly, a number of commentators (not the least of which was yours truly) had a lot of fun with his remarks. What, after all, could be more ironic coming from the top exec of the company that defined the expectations of those consumers and repeated its "Can you hear me now?" advertising slogan so often that it worked its way into the national psyche?

But good times dont last forever. Just as quickly as my fellow pundits and I stepped up to make the most of the situation, Eric Rabe, Verizons vice president of media relations, came forward to take the wind out of our sails.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read Carol Ellisons original commentary with links to The San Francisco Chronicles report.

Heres what Rabe had to say:

"A recent story on Verizon from the San Francisco Chronicle has been making the rounds of the bloggers who gleefully repeat an out of context quote from Verizons chairman at an editorial board meeting with the paper with a gotcha enthusiasm.

"I was there, and heres why what the paper wrote leaves the wrong impression.

"CEO Ivan Seidenberg was making the point that mobile phone service was designed to serve customers on the move—in airports, downtown areas, and along major travel routes. He rhetorically asked, since thats the case, why would you expect a mobile phone to work in your home? Bingo—quote time.

"Left out was Ivans point, made just as strongly, that in recent years, customers have come to expect mobile phones to work everywhere, and that this challenges the entire industry to expand coverage and provide service in places never engineered for wireless phone calls in the first place.

"Ivan also noted that Verizon Wireless provides the best service of the half dozen competitors serving most cities, including San Francisco. That position is confirmed in customer surveys and by the movement of many customers from competitors to Verizon Wireless.

"Finally, Ivan was quick to say we work everyday to make our service work wherever customers need it, and he pointed out that Verizon Wireless spends billions of dollars each year to improve coverage.

"But the April 16 story used only the most inflammatory comment in 15 minutes or more of discussion about wireless service. A fairer report would surely have noted that Ivan acknowledged that wireless service is still being deployed and that Verizon is working hard to make the service even better than it is.

"When I wrote to the paper, the response was that space is limited, they try to select quotes of most interest to readers and do not mean to be unfair.

"Im glad the paper didnt mean to be unfair—and certainly the Chronicle chose a quote that was of interest to readers. But its clear from the buzz on the blogs that lots of people got an inaccurate impression—and an unfair one—of the conversation.

"Glad to discuss as always,

Actually, the Chronicles report did include a summary Seidenbergs remarks that customers have come to expect their mobile phones to work everywhere, that this challenges the industry and that Verizon is working on the problem. I suspect it was my focus on the irony of Seidenbergs rhetoric that precipitated his mail.

So, in the interest of fairness to Verizon, I must say that I never meant to imply that Verizon was not stepping up to challenges of consumer demand. The company does an excellent job of reminding me that it is. Hardly a day passes that my e-mail here at is not crammed with messages from Verizon announcing expanded or beefed-up service in some neck of the woods or other.

Im also happy to confess that I happen to be a Verizon Wireless customer, one who would rather fight than switch. The service has never failed me personally. It just works and, so far, its worked for me wherever I am—including my home.

What doesnt work well for me—and this was the point of my column—is the fact that Verizon put its considerable weight behind an effort to pass state legislation that robs municipalities of the right to self-determine their futures whenever those futures have to do with municipal wireless. Call me old-fashioned, but I happen to be of the Ben Franklin school that holds "The country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it."

I suspect Ben Franklin was speaking rhetorically when he said that. As am I when I say that Im not ready to give up on the rhetoric of the founding fathers and that, to my mind, whats good for the country is good for municipalities. But does that make us insincere?

Continuing to speak rhetorically, I still think its dumb to call municipal wireless a "dumb idea." But, on that note, Ill apologize to Mr. Seidenberg for not acknowledging his rhetoric within my own. And now, lest I drown us all in rhetoric, Ill close this chapter in the escalating rhetoric of the municipal wireless debate and say, "Ciao for now."

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