IDS Asks Georgia Panel to Review BellSouth Telemarketing Campaign

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Telecommunications provider IDS Telcom has asked the Georgia Public Service Commission to investigate BellSouth for a telemarketing campaign aimed at winning over its customers.

IDS Telcom, Miami, complained July 16 that BellSouth made misrepresentations about it in telemarketing calls to IDS Telcom customers. BellSouth callers claimed IDS Telcom was going out of business or ready to declare bankruptcy and would be unable to provide quality service, IDS Telcom claimed.

The claims were false, and the telemarketing calls gave the impression that the only way to ensure trouble-free phone service was to switch back to BellSouth, IDS Telecom said.

"They called up my base and said I was bankrupt," said Keith Kramer, IDS Telcom senior vice president. "I had customers coming into my lobby to see if we were still open."

The complaint also accused BellSouth of using predatory pricing by offering IDS Telcom customers rates below the wholesale cost of telephone service. Furthermore, IDS Telcom charged BellSouth with systematically refusing to transfer customers to IDS Telcom service in a timely manner.

BellSouth blamed IDS Telcom for the service failures, then tried to switch the customers back to BellSouth, according to the complaint.

Kramer estimated that BellSouth's practices had cost his company thousands of customers and up to $20 million. The company asked the commission to order BellSouth to cease all marketing programs aimed at winning back customers who have switched to other telephone service providers.

Responding to the charges, BellSouth said that it had been in negotiations with IDS Telcom about the alleged problems and reached an agreement. BellSouth said that it was surprised when the complaint was filed.

The company said it ceased its telemarketing operations in May after IDS Telcom first raised its objections. The telemarketing campaign is currently under review.

"We strongly disagree with the allegations made by this competitor and say they are completely without merit," said Joe Chandler, BellSouth spokesman.

IDS Telcom has provided local telephone service since 1996 and began competing with BellSouth in the Georgia market in November. In May, IDS Telcom filed a complaint with the Florida Public Service Commission, alleging charges similar to those filed in Georgia.

A hearing on the Florida complaint is scheduled for September, Kramer said.

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