Verizon Tells ATandT Not to Kill the Messenger

Verizon Wireless files a 53-page memorandum responding to AT&T's request to have five of Verizon's ads pulled. AT&T contends that consumers might mistakenly interpret the ads as saying AT&T has no coverage at all in its non-3G coverage areas.

Verizon Wireless has formally responded to competitor AT&T's legal measures against its newest ad campaign, which shows maps of both carriers' 3G coverage areas.

"AT&T did not file this lawsuit because Verizon's 'There's a Map for That' advertisements are untrue," Verizon's legal team wrote in a 53-page memorandum presented to a U.S. District Court in Georgia. "AT&T sued because Verizon's ads are true and the truth hurts."

AT&T is the exclusive U.S. provider of the iPhone. An AT&T "There's an App for That" campaign has promoted the download and use of mobile applications on the iPhone-a practice that has contributed to making voracious data-gobblers of its users and setting new precedents for mobile device use and coverage needs.

In the memorandum, Verizon goes on to say while AT&T has invested tens of millions of dollars in its 3G network, which it calls the "Nation's Fastest 3G Network," Verizon has invested "billions of dollars since 2004 upgrading nearly its entire network across the continental United States and Hawaii to 3G, and today covers five times more of the United States than AT&T's 3G network."

It further spells out that AT&T has asked that five television advertisements and related print and radio advertisements be prohibited from airing, and states that AT&T "admits that the 3G coverage maps-the one thing that is common to all five ads-are accurate and that the ads' express statement that Verizon has '5X More 3G Coverage' than AT&T is true."

AT&T's position has been that, while true, the maps may mislead or confuse customers about AT&T's non-3G coverage. The week of Nov. 9, AT&T posted a letter on its Website to convey a few "key facts" to customers.

"AT&T's wireless data coverage reaches 303 million people-or 97 percent of the U.S. population, where they live and work," the letter said, before going on to explain that AT&T offers three types of technology: 3G, EDGE (Enhanced Data for Global Evolution) and GPRS. Of the first two options AT&T said, "With both 3G and EDGE coverage, customers can access the Internet, send e-mail, surf the Web, stream music, download videos, send photos, text, talk and more. The only difference-with some data applications, 3G is faster than EDGE."

Verizon disputes the claim that consumers may be misled into thinking that AT&T offers no coverage whatsoever outside of the 3G coverage areas shown on the maps in Verizon's ads.

"This claim cannot be accepted without convincing evidence that consumers are actually misled," Verizon argued. "AT&T has presented no evidence of consumer deception. This alone is a sufficient basis to deny AT&T's motion as to these ads."

While there is indeed no evidence that consumers may believe AT&T has no coverage outside of its 3G areas, YouGov's BrandIndex, which measures consumers' brand perceptions on a daily basis, has found the ads to be at least shifting consumer opinion about the two companies. BrandIndex found "buzz" levels to be changing in Verizon's favor, as AT&T's ratings fell on the same days.

Ted Marzilli, managing director of BrandIndex, told eWEEK that while buzz shifts quite a bit, it's "more surprising ... to see things like satisfaction and quality [ratings] move as well."

The Verizon team wrote that AT&T is seeking to have the ads taken down as an emergency measure because "Verizon's comparison of its own 3G coverage with AT&T's confirms what the marketplace has been saying for months: AT&T failed to invest adequately in the necessary infrastructure to expand its 3G coverage to support its growth in [the] smartphone business, and the usefulness of its service to smartphone users has suffered accordingly."

Verizon concluded, "AT&T may not like the message that the ads send, but this court should reject its efforts to silence the messenger."