BellSouth Sues Rival Over Telemarketing Pitches

BellSouth is seeking a restraining order against a competing telecommunications provider on charges that its rival made misleading statements about it in telemarketing calls to small businesses, BellSouth said yesterday.

According to BellSouth, Macon, GA-based Access Integrated Networks Inc. made statements in telemarketing solicitations designed to make customers think that the two companies are affiliated. BellSouth filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Atlanta to halt Access' marketing efforts.

“The intent of the lawsuit is to stop these deceptive and fraudulent acts, which have resulted in confused and angry customers, lost business opportunities for legitimate providers and ill-gotten benefits to [Access],” David Scobey, president of BellSouth Small Business Services, said in a statement.

A representative for Access did not return phone calls for comment yesterday.

In its complaint, BellSouth accused Access sales representatives of telling customers that Access was affiliated with BellSouth or BellSouth's “wholesale” business unit and could offer them services at lower costs. A church in Alabama received a call from an Access telemarketer who claimed BellSouth had given Access permission to call nonprofit organizations about special discounts on services, according to BellSouth.

Access telemarketers also claimed to be BellSouth's authorized billing agents and told customers that their bills would change but their service would stay with BellSouth, the lawsuit claimed. In other instances, the telemarketers gave false information about regulatory decisions and the supposed break-up of BellSouth, according to the BellSouth complaint.

BellSouth also accused Access of using print advertisements designed to appear similar to BellSouth marketing materials, including reproductions of advertising styles and logos. One such ad was transmitted by unsolicited commercial fax, BellSouth said.

Access, founded by former BellSouth executive Tom Wright, is a local phone service provider formed in the aftermath of the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, which introduced local competition into the telecommunications industry. The company began its public feud with BellSouth in 2001, when it accused BellSouth of impeding the entry of competitors to the small-business market.

Later, Access opposed BellSouth's entry into the long distance market in Georgia and complained that BellSouth's sales representatives claimed that Access was in bankruptcy and told customers they would lose their directory listings if they switched to Access. Access also filed a complaint of unfair pricing practices against BellSouth with the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, which ordered BellSouth to pay a $169,000 fine in April 2002.

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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