BellSouth Rival Responds to Lawsuit, Blames Contractor

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Access Integrated Networks, a telecommunications provider facing a lawsuit by rival BellSouth over allegations about its telemarketing tactics, responded yesterday by suspending its outbound telemarketing provider.

In a statement, the company said the provider, whose identity was not disclosed, had engaged in activities "not in keeping with Access' values and ethical standards."

On Aug. 5, BellSouth, Atlanta, had announced it was seeking an injunction from a federal court to halt what it called a misleading marketing campaign by Access.

BellSouth accused telemarketers working for Access of claiming affiliation with BellSouth and at times giving false information about the supposed "break-up" of BellSouth. The lawsuit also accused Access of using print advertisements designed to appear similar to BellSouth marketing materials and said that Access had sent one such ad to a customer via unsolicited commercial fax.

"We regret any missteps by this telemarketing firm, but we also regret the extreme overreaction by our competitor," Rodney Page, senior vice president of Access, Macon, GA, said in response to the lawsuit. "We see BellSouth's motion as totally without merit and reflective of the competitive nature of our business."

Access has been feuding with BellSouth since 2001, when it accused BellSouth of impeding the entry of competition to the small-business market, and later opposed BellSouth's entry into the long-distance market. Access also has accused BellSouth sales representatives of telling customers that Access was in bankruptcy and that they would lose their directory listings if they switched services.

Last year, another BellSouth local phone service rival, Miami-based IDS Telcom, accused BellSouth of claiming in telemarketing pitches that IDS was going out of business.

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