Verizon's Fightin' Words: Rivals Are 'Un-American'

Slams Cable Companies' Refusal to Run Its Spots Touting Cheaper Service

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- In an ad battle worthy of warring political candidates, Verizon Communications is blasting cable companies as "un-American" for refusing to air its ads that criticize spiraling cable prices.

And while the mudslinging is confined to New Jersey, dubbed "ground zero" in the power struggle between cable companies and telecommunications companies to bundle home services including local, long distance, Internet and TV, other states may be in for a splattering of such brickbats. "We're doing this on a state-by-state basis," said Verizon spokesman Rick Young. "Who knows what we're going to encounter in other states? We'll see what happens next."

The spot Verizon plotted for the Garden State aims to get residents to lobby their legislators. The commercial, created by political agency McCarthy Marcus Hennings, Washington, states that cable rates have risen 86% because consumers have no choice of cable providers and that where Verizon's digital-fiber-optic service is offered, "people are paying less and that's good news for everybody."

Verizon said two local cable giants, Comcast and Time Warner, refused to run the spot, even though the two have been running their own ads "virtually nonstop" attacking Verizon's effort to offer New Jersey consumers a competing slate of TV entertainment. Verizon said a third cable company, Cablevision, did not respond to its advertising request.

"This about cable stifling debate in New Jersey," said Mr. Young, "and frankly, it's un-American."

Dennis Bone, president of Verizon New Jersey, said cable operators don't want consumers to know they can pick another cable provider. "The cable industry is erecting yet another barrier to efforts to give consumers in New Jersey what they want and deserve: a choice of cable TV providers."

In a statement, Comcast said the cable company "will not run advertising which contains unsubstantiated, false and misleading claims." It cited a National Cable TV Association study that found Verizon's claims against the cable industry are "demonstrably false and misleading and are part of a larger lobbying effort intended to secure preferential treatment for them at the expense of consumers."

Cablevision spokesman Jim Maiella said the spot in question is "purposely misleading." He added: "A $90 billion phone monopoly complaining about high rates and not being able to get its message out is laughable. Is there anyone in New Jersey who hasn't seen hundreds of Verizon ads?"

The Verizon spokesman declined to say how much was planned to be spent on the New Jersey ad, but said it would be a "moderate to expensive buy." Zenith Optimeda is Verizon's media-buying agency. The commercial is airing on NBC affiliate WMGM and other executions are running on radio and in print.

Agreements for TV service are made between cable companies and local governments. But telecoms want laws that would allow competition statewide, making it easier for entry by eliminating tens of thousands of individual approvals by county and municipal governments, said Ed Merlis, senior VP-government and regulatory affairs for USTelecom, a telecom-industry association. So far, Texas, Virginia and Indiana have done just that, and legislation is pending in Florida.
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