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Verizon sues Alltel over homicidal guinea pig

'Our customers are not caged rodents'

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Little more than two months after forking over one million smackers to settle accusations it was guilty of false advertising, Verizon Wireless has accused one of its biggest competitors of false advertising.

On Wednesday, Verizon slapped a federal lawsuit on Alltel Corp., insisting that Alltel is making untrue claims about Verizon phone plans in recently-aired TV ads.

"Since October 2007, Alltel has aired nationwide television advertising falsely claiming that only Alltel gives wireless customers the ability to change their calling plans without having to extend the term of their contracts," reads the complaint, filed in a Virginia-based federal court on Wednesday. "Since October 7, 2007, Verizon Wireless customers have been able to change calling plans without extending the end date of their contract with Verizon Wireless."

In one such ad - which can be viewed here, thanks to the magic of YouTube - Alltel compares Verizon's customers to a caged guinea pig named Alice.

As the ad begins, four misfits representing Alltel's four largest competitors lead a much hipper man name Chad into a dimly lit basement. Chad is wearing an Alltel shirt. "Welcome Chad," says AT&T. "We'd like you to meet Alice. We control her world."

"She loves us for it," says T-Mobile. "Just like our customers."

But Chad doesn't buy it. "Our customers love freedom," says the Alltel man. "Like how they can change their plan at anytime - without extending their contract."

"Freedom is overrated," says Verizon, before Sprint Nextel leans over to unlock Alice's cage. "Yeah, she loves it in there," says Sprint. "Even if I open her cage--"

But before he can finish, Alice leaps from the cage in a single-minded attempt to murder AT&T in cold blood.

As Verizon points out later in its suit, these ads first hit TV screens well before October, when Verizon wouldn't allow contact changes without extensions. But once Verizon straighted out its policies, it told Alltel to cease and desist. "However," the suit says. "Alltel has continued to run advertising falsely and misleadingly contending that only Alltel offers wireless customers the ability to change their service without changing their contract term."

What the suit fails to point out is that at the end October, Verizon tossed its customers a cool $1m after the New York Attorney General's office spent nine months investigating the, um, eccentric way the company tried to market its NationalAccess and BroadbandAccess wireless plans. Those would be its EVDO plans.

Verizon ads claimed the plans were 'unlimited' when they were clearly, well, limited. According to the attorney general's investigation, the plans "only permitted limited activities such as web browsing, email and intranet access. Customers who used their plans for common activities such as downloading movies and video or even playing video games online, were unwittingly in violation of the terms and conditions of their service agreements."

"This settlement sends a message to companies large and small answering the growing consumer demand for wireless services. When consumers are promised an ‘unlimited’ service, they do not expect the promise to be broken by hidden limitations," said Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. "Consumers must be treated fairly and honestly. Delivering a product is simply not enough – the promises must be delivered as well."

If you wanna see that Alltel ad again, go right ahead. ®

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