AT&T PRINT ADS TOUT SLAMMING POLICY: PROPOSED REGULATIONS THE SUBJECT OF NATIONAL NEWSPAPER CAMPAIGN

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In an effort to protect its brand and take an industry stand, AT&T Corp. last week launched ads touting its new measures to stop "slamming," the illegal practice of switching phone customers' service without consent.

A print campaign broke in USA Today and The Washington Post last week; spending on the newspaper-only effort, handled in-house, was undisclosed.

PROTECTING `BRAND HEALTH'

"To the initial resistance to paying for third-party verification, our argument is that the brand health of the industry, and of AT&T, is worth it," said Jack McMaster, VP-growth markets.

He said additional advertising may be added, depending on the success of the print drive.

The company had 500,000 of its customers fraudulently switched last year, Mr. McMaster said.

Rivals LCI International, MCI Communications Corp. and Sprint Corp. announced public support for AT&T's initiative.

$1,000 PENALTY PROPOSED

Part of the AT&T proposal for state and federal regulators calls for a $1,000 penalty to be paid by resellers for every proven slamming incident.

The company is asking that regulators require third-party verification on all long-distance carrier switching. Currently, only outbound telemarketing calls from the carrier are double-checked for slamming.

AT&T is cleaning its own house by suspending the use of all outside sales agents, mostly used at outdoor events and promotions where the company is trying to sign up new customers.

"Misrepresentation by resellers of AT&T service has been an ongoing black eye for AT&T," said Jeffrey Kagan, president of consultancy Kagan Telecom Associates.

"Resellers use the AT&T brand to make money, but they don't protect it as AT&T does. ... It's good to see AT&T taking a zero-tolerance position," Mr. Kagan said.

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