BellSouth Seeks Restraint
BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS) announced yesterday that it has filed for a restraining order and injunction against Access Integrated Networks Inc. (AIN), a small CLEC (competitive local exchange carrier) based in Macon, Ga. (see BellSouth Sues AIN). The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Atlanta, charges that AIN has repeatedly misrepresented its relationship with BellSouth in an attempt to pass its own services as BellSouth services and ensnare more customers.
AIN says the move is without merit. "We are very concerned about what we think is BellSouth’s knee-jerk reaction,” says Rodney Page, the vice president of marketing and strategic development at AIN, claiming that counsel for the two companies had been in discussions trying to solve the problem.
"We’ve been in talks with [AIN] for the past few months,” says Todd Smith, a spokesman for BellSouth. “They’ve responded, but the actions haven’t ceased.”
According to the suit, AIN sales representatives have told small business customers that they were with BellSouth or BellSouth’s wholesale business unit, or that they were an authorized billing agent for BellSouth, and that while the customer’s bill would change, the service itself would still be with BellSouth. The sales representatives also gave customers misleading accounts of regulatory decisions, including the imminent breakup of BellSouth, the suit charges.
“The [Access] telemarketer told me that BellSouth now had long distance, and she would be handling the billing for BellSouth," writes one customer in an affidavit for the case.
“Sam [a telemarketer] told me Access had been contracted by BellSouth to handle BellSouth’s billing because BellSouth had a monopoly in the state of Florida and it had to be broken,” another customer affidavit states.
One possibility is that AIN telemarketers were refering to an interconnection agreement the company has had with BellSouth since May 2000, but Smith says the agreement does not justify AIN’s actions. “[T]he ICS agreement is still in effect,” he writes in an email. “The interconnection agreement between BellSouth and AIN does not allow for unauthorized use of BellSouth's name and trademark."
AIN admits that several telemarketers from a telemarketing firm representing the company had misrepresented its relationship to BellSouth. “We suspended the telemarketing firm last Friday,” Page says, insisting that at the time, AIN had no idea that BellSouth was about to file suit. He would not disclose the name of the firm. “When we find a screw-up, we fix it,” he says.
BellSouth also claims that AIN has also used faxed solicitations that are almost exact reproductions of BellSouth-generated marketing and sales material. The fax carries the BellSouth name and logo, while AIN’s own name and logo are nowhere to be found. “Now you can receive the same BellSouth quality service at discounts of up to 35 percent,” states the advertisement, obtained by Light Reading.
Page, however, insists that the ad has nothing to do with AIN. “We hadn’t seen that fax before,” he says. “The telephone numbers on it aren’t ours… The 800 number has been disconnected… and the other number is a Chicago number. We told BellSouth that we didn’t think [it] was connected to us…” Page describes the filing as a BellSouth bullying tactic. But the legal squabbles are not the first between the companies. AIN has itself filed several complaints against BellSouth over what it calls unfair pricing.
— Eugénie Larson, Reporter, Light Reading