Verizon to AT&T: Stop whining; start investing

Verizon Wireless says that AT&T is suing Verizon because it doesn't like the fact that its advertisements depicting AT&T's lack of 3G wireless coverage are true.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read

Verizon Wireless said AT&T is suing the wireless operator not because its recent ads are untrue, but because the truth hurts.

AT&T earlier this month filed a lawsuit claiming that Verizon is misleading customers by suggesting that AT&T subscribers cannot access wireless Internet services throughout its network. In the opening paragraph of its legal rebuttal to the suit, Verizon very plainly surmised its argument: "AT&T did not file this lawsuit because Verizon's 'There's A Map For That' advertisements are untrue; AT&T sued because Verizon's ads are true and the truth hurts."

The rebuttal filed on Monday in a Georgia district court was in response to two complaints AT&T filed with the court asking that the Verizon advertisements be pulled from the airwaves. AT&T has called the claims in the advertisement "false" and "misleading." And the company claims it has caused "irreparable harm" to AT&T's wireless business.

Verizon representatives have responded to the press on these claims. But now the company has filed its official response to the court in a 53-page document that lays out the company's defense.

Verizon argues its advertisements are simply pointing out the fact that AT&T has not invested enough in upgrading its network to handle the tidal wave of data traffic experienced by the release of the Apple iPhone, which AT&T sells exclusively in the U.S. Verizon says that it is simply highlighting what many AT&T iPhone customers have already recognized.

"In the final analysis," Verizon said in its filing. "AT&T seeks emergency relief because Verizon's side-by-side, apples-to-apples 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 smartphone business, and the usefulness of its service to smartphone users has suffered accordingly. AT&T may not like the message that the ads send, but this Court should reject its efforts to silence the messenger."

Verizon's initial advertisement, which began airing on TV November 3, shows two maps with red and white splotches indicating 3G wireless coverage. The white area indicates no 3G coverage, and the red indicates areas where 3G service is available. In the ad, Verizon shows an AT&T map that has lots of white spaces, whereas the Verizon map is almost covered in red.

AT&T claims the ad is misleading because it implies that AT&T customers can't use their phones and cannot access the mobile Internet in areas where the carrier does not offer 3G wireless coverage. The truth is that AT&T customers can use their phones and they are able to access the wireless Net using the company's slower EDGE network.

Verizon has modified its ad slightly to indicate that the map applies only to 3G coverage and not regular 2.5G service, which is adequate for making voice calls and connecting to the wireless Internet at slower speeds.

In its filing, Verizon argues that its ads refer explicitly and solely to AT&T's 3G network coverage. And therefore the advertisements should be evaluated on that basis. Verizon claims that it is a fact that its 3G wireless network covers five times more geographic area than AT&T's 3G network. And because this is an undisputable fact, the company should be able to use this in its advertisements.

Verizon pointed to AT&T's own advertisement claims that it operates the nation's fastest 3G wireless network.

"Despite the far smaller size of its 3G network, AT&T has spent tens of millions of dollars making its 3G network, which it dubs the "Nation's Fastest 3G Network," the centerpiece of its national advertising since at least the summer of 2008," Verizon argued. "AT&T now is attempting to silence Verizon's ads that include maps graphically depicting the geographic reach of AT&T's 3G network as compared to Verizon's own 3G network because AT&T does not like the truthful picture painted by that comparison."

But AT&T still asserts that the advertisements Verizon is running are misleading.

"We filed the lawsuit because Verizon's ads mislead customers into thinking that AT&T does not offer wireless service in the vast majority of the country," said Mark Siegel, a spokesman for AT&T. "We look forward to presenting our case."