Verizon triumphs over AT&T in public Pennsylvania battle

PHILADELPHIA: Last week saw the climax of a bitter PR battle over

local and long-distance service in Pennsylvania between Verizon and

AT&T.



In 1999, Pennsylvania's Public Utility Commission (PUC) ordered Verizon

to separate its wholesale and retail businesses. AT&T supported the

decision on the basis that the move would create a better market for

competition.



But last week, the PUC modified its ruling and said Verizon would not

have to split, so long as it provided for open competition. While making

the ruling, however, PUC chairman John Quain attacked Verizon's media

campaign, calling it, 'an extensive, systematic campaign of

misinformation,' according to the AP.



Both Verizon and AT&T have used press releases, media relations,

grassroots and advertising to advance their sides of the debate.



The struggle began long before the formation of Verizon from Bell

Atlantic and GTE.



AT&T has claimed that Verizon, the incumbent local provider, is trying

to thwart competition. Verizon countered that AT&T was employing

delaying tactics to keep it out of the long-distance market.



Verizon also objected to AT&T's involvement with a group called

Pennsylvanians for Local Competition (PLC), which has been lobbying for

the opening of the local market.



Verizon has also been involved with an association called Pennsylvanians

for Total Competition.



Lenora Vesio, AT&T's director of media for Pennsylvania, said that

consumers, not AT&T, are making their voices heard about dissatisfaction

with Verizon.



'Our goal is to get a healthy environment for competition,' she

said.



An op-ed in The Wall Street Journal last week by AT&T chairman C.

Michael Armstrong called for unilateral structural separation.



Verizon defended its tactics. 'We were under heavy attack by the largest

telecom on the planet,' said Eric Rabe, VP of media relations.



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