Hear This, Verizon!

Opinion: Verizon spends millions on its "Can you hear me now?" ad campaign that promised ubiquitous wireless phone coverage, and then the company CEO calls consumers' expectations unrealistic. Now he expects us to listen when he calls m

Somebody should have reminded Ivan Seidenberg, CEO of Verizon Communications, that silence truly can be golden—like at those times when you come off looking as dumb as the ideas that you call "dumb."

Its not often that a $13 million salaried CEO of a $71 billion company deigns to sit down with a bunch of local newspaper editors, but thats what Seidenberg did in San Francisco last week. He talked about the companys recent purchase of MCI, customer complaints about Verizons service and, oh yes, the plan that no doubt occasioned his visit—San Franciscos intentions to build a municipal Wi-Fi network.

As broadband carriers go, SBC and Comcast are somewhat more entrenched in San Francisco than Verizon, but the company has led the charge against municipal broadband networks elsewhere. And, what with the merger mania having become more of the standard operating procedure than running phone networks right now among telecoms, its probably just a matter of time before Verizon becomes a major player there as well.

Seidenbergs presentation to the San Francisco Chronicle editors was packed with all the verbal hat pins youd expect to find in a shtick designed to pop the muni bubble. But, before the conversation was over, Seidenberg managed to let the air out of his own companys image.

Seidenberg declared the citys plan "one of the dumbest ideas Ive ever heard—not on its merits, mind you, but on the fact that "someone will have to upgrade it, someone will have to maintain it, and someone will have to run it." Well, duh ... isnt that just as true of highways, baseball stadiums, port authorities, city buildings and, for that matter, my home and yours?

/zimages/1/28571.gifPhiladelphia is municipal Wi-Fis worst-case scenario, claims Carol Ellison. Click here to read her column.

But he didnt stop there. Seidenberg went on to whine about consumer expectations and the fact that California customers have the "unrealistic" expectation that they should be able to get Verizon wireless service in their homes.

He told the Chronicle editors that 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."

How dare we expect a telephone to work in our homes! And how have we come to expect that?

Well maybe, just maybe, Ivan, we actually believed Verizons relentless, multimillion dollar "Can you hear me now?" ad campaign.

Maybe, just maybe, we were dumb enough to listen as your message resonated over prime-time television, filled drive time on the radio and wormed its way into the national lexicon of over-used commercial phrases.

Now the message is that municipal wireless is a "dumb idea." One question: Should we hear you now?

Carol Ellison is editor of eWEEK.coms Mobile & Wireless Topic Center. She has worked as a technology journalist since 1986 and has covered the wireless industry since 2000.

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