Communications and Media

A Map for All Reasons Cell Phone Ad War

Back in the 80's there was an ad war between Coca Cola and Pepsi. Today, the war is between cell phone carriers.

It started when Verizon Wireless began running advertisements showing that it had five times more 3G coverage than AT&T. The ad showed a picture of 2 maps of the United States, one with red dots showing Verizon's coverage, which was very concentrated. The second map had AT&T's coverage, reflected by sparse blue dots.

The Claims

Verizon's commercial suggests AT&T's network can't handle increased traffic from smartphone devices, such as Apple's iPhone and didn't have very good coverage.

AT&T sued Verizon arguing the commercials misled consumers because they hint AT&T subscribers can't access wireless internet services throughout its network. They also claimed the ads caused an irreparable harm to the company and tried to get a temporary restraining order stopping the ads.

Verizon's responded that its ads weren't false and AT&T sued because it didn't want to face the truth about its network. The restraining order wasn't granted.

Can You Sue over Advertisements?

It's become a popular trend for companies to sue their rivals over advertisements. Besides the AT&T vs. Verizon battle, Pantene and Dove, Science Diet and Iams, and Campbell Soup and Progresso have all recently fought with one another over ads. Many companies have filed a complaint to get their competitors' ads withdrawn or amended.

The law requires advertisers to have a reasonable factual basis for their commercials, and their competitors demand they prove their claims. Pantene attacked Dove's claim that its conditioner "repairs" hair better than others, and Iams is challenged on one of its advertisements that "No other dog food stacks up like Iams."

AT&T and Verizon Make Up

The lawsuit was expected to get ugly, but in the end, Verizon and AT&T agreed stopped the lawsuits and will try to settle their rivalry out of court. Neither commented on the reason for this decision.

Nonetheless, questions were raised: Will these ads continue to run? So far, Verizon has not pulled the commercial. Also, what about all of the legal expenses so far? Who pays for them? Hopefully, the customers won’t end up suffering from increased expenses.

Cell Phone Tips

Cell phones have made communication much easier. With wi-fi capability and 3G networks, we can e-mail, Skype and send pictures instantaneously. However, there are many hidden fees and charges that you must be aware of.

Watch Out for Cellular Phone Taxes

Lawsuits alleging improper charges have been going on for some time. Most recently, AT&T customers have accused the company of improperly levying taxes against them on mobile internet access fees. These customers claim that AT&T is taxing the mobile data portion of their bills when it shouldn't. Under the federal Internet Tax Freedom Act, state and local governments can't tax internet access between Nov. 1, 2003 and Nov. 1, 2014.

Be Careful When Roaming

Most cell companies have US-wide coverage and roaming within the country. However, if you're heading out of the US, be especially careful. There have been countless stories of travelers using their cell phones abroad and ending up with thousands of dollars of charges, without even making phone calls!

Depending on your phone and company, you may not even be able to take your phone out of the country. Check with your carrier first.

Read the Fine Print

Remember that taxes, fees and surcharges added on boost your monthly bill well above the advertised rate. When shopping for a new phone plan, inquire about activation fees, directory assistance charges, roaming charges, text messages, download charges for applications and games as well as overtime charges. Also, be diligent about checking your bill each month to make sure you aren't being charged beyond your rate.

While AT&T and Verizon have spent the last few months battling whose network is more effective rather than ensuring good customer support, read the fine print to make sure your cell phone charges are reasonable for the coverage you want.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I am an AT&T customer and I think I’ve paid too much in taxes. Can I join the lawsuit against AT&T?
  • Does the lawsuit between Verizon and AT&T have any effect on my cell phone service?
  • My competitor has placed an advertisement comparing our companies. I think it's false, can I sue them?

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