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Pac Bell reworks DSL ads after cable flare-up

The company adds information to some TV ads that call cable modem users "Web hogs" in an attempt to clarify the difference between cable and DSL connections.

Pacific Bell has added a disclaimer to a series of TV advertisements that characterize high-speed cable modem users as "Web hogs" in an attempt to clarify the difference between cable and DSL Internet connections.

The addition to the commercials follows threats of a lawsuit from the nation's largest cable modem service provider, Excite@Home, against the phone company and its parent organization, SBC Communications.

As previously reported, Excite@Home executives said Pac Bell's ads mislead consumers into believing that DSL (digital subscriber line), a competing technology, offers direct Internet connections with dedicated download speeds.

Pac Bell's disclaimers will be added at the end of its TV spots and will say that DSL service only offers a dedicated connection between a consumer's home and the phone company's local switching facility.

DSL, one of the leading broadband Net connection technologies, offers guaranteed speeds over a short link between a consumer's home and a local phone company's central office. But the overall connection to the Internet, like most networks, is shared and can provide highly inconsistent connection speeds.

In the commercial, Excite@Home took issue with Pac Bell's tagline: "Always fast. Never shared."

The Pac Bell TV spots poke fun at cable modem networks such as Excite@Home's, which provide a certain amount of bandwidth that is shared among local residents. Theoretically, the more customers online at the same time, the slower the service.

Pacific Bell spokesman John Britton said the changes already were planned as part of a broader effort to unify the marketing message among SBC's various phone properties. SBC owns Pacific Bell and operates Southwestern Bell and newly acquired Ameritech.

Similar disclaimers previously have appeared in radio and print advertisements since the DSL ad campaign began in March, Britton said.

Excite@Home representatives described the disclaimers as "a nice gesture," but they remain unsatisfied.

"We don't feel High speed pipe dreams? that that's going to solve the fundamental problem with the advertisements, and that is that we think they are misleading consumers into thinking that they're buying a connection to the Internet that's not shared," said Excite@Home spokeswoman Alison Bowman.

Pac Bell's Britton said the changes weren't made in response to Excite@Home's recent letter, which SBC chief executive Ed Whitacre received earlier this week, Britton confirmed. But Britton added that the TV disclaimers serve to compare DSL vs. cable modems on an even playing field.

"We're happy to make the change because we want an apples-to-apples comparison. We have no problem adding about six words at the end," Britton said. "We stand behind our ads, and we're happy to qualify the differences because we're committed to making sure our customers are well-informed."