AT&T Quietly Ditches Verizon Ad Lawsuit

Without saying why, AT&T dropped a lawsuit against Verizon Wireless that claimed the competitor's advertisements on 3G coverage were misleading.

Verizon won't change its “There's a Map for That” ads, which highlight AT&T's lack of nationwide 3G coverage while knocking Apple's “There's an App for That” iPhone tagline. AT&T had thrown Verizon's “Misfit Toys” ad into the lawsuit as well, so we should keep seeing that iPhone-bashing commercial throughout the holiday season. Verizon also dropped a lawsuit it had filed against AT&T, but neither company commented to Reuters, which picked up the story.

AT&T didn't have strong legs to stand on after a federal judge ruled that Verizon could continue airing the ads while the lawsuit progressed. Judge Timothy Batten said that while Verizon's ads are sneaky, they're not misleading. AT&T had argued that because its areas without 3G coverage were marked in white in Verizon's ads, people interpret those areas as having no coverage at all. A shopping mall survey that AT&T commissioned found that one in four shoppers came away with that conclusion.

Still, it's a silly argument, because AT&T was basically asking a judge to decide how people should interpret colors, or decree that the ads should include a primer on how 3G differs from slower connections such as 2.5G. Now, all that AT&T can do is battle Verizon in advertisements of its own, which unfortunately have been pretty awful so far. (Apple has joined the fray and fared better.)

Even though the lawsuit failed in court, I have a feeling it wasn't a total loss for AT&T. After all, in summarizing both sides' arguments without misleading readers, I had to explain that only AT&T's 3G coverage is lacking, not its overall coverage. So while the lawsuit shined a light on AT&T's 3G deficiencies, anyone who read the ensuing media reports heard both sides of the argument.

AT&T is smart to pull out now and stop the case from dragging on, but now the carrier has a new problem on its hands: A Consumer Reports survey just ranked AT&T last in customer satisfaction out of the four major carriers. There's no lawsuit for that.

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