AT&T; changes cell ad mantra

Times Staff Writer

Cellphone service providers are famous for their swagger. Sprint brags that it has “the fastest and largest national mobile broadband network,” and Verizon proclaims its network is “America’s most reliable.”

AT&T;'s boast was about “fewest dropped calls” -- until recently.

Now, it’s about “more bars in more places.”

Why did AT&T; ditch its long-running advertising campaign?


A spokesman for the wireless unit of AT&T; Inc. said it was due to a decision to focus on coverage, “because this is what our customers tell us over and over again is important to them.”

Ira Spiro, a West Los Angeles lawyer representing an AT&T; customer in a federal lawsuit against the company, called that explanation “folderol.”

The hostilities over fewest dropped calls -- which sent AT&T; and Sprint to court last year -- continue.

In the suit, plaintiff Jonathan C. Kaltwasser, a former resident of Monterey, claims that AT&T; knew the dropped-calls ads were “inaccurate and deceptive” and that the company broke the law in running them.


Kaltwasser says he was duped into renewing his contract by the “barrage” of fewest-dropped-calls ads that began to appear in March 2006.

The AT&T; spokesman declined to comment on the pending litigation.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, seeks class-action status.

“Our client and many other people were led to subscribe based on advertising we believe was improper,” said Spiro, one of a team of lawyers working on the case.


“That’s just wrong,” he said.

Critics of cellphone service providers concur.

“It’s an industry that does a lot of bragging but also does a lot of disappointing,” said Greg Daugherty, executive editor of Consumer Reports, which in a recent survey found that cellphone users ranked their cellular providers just 66 on a scale of 100 in customer satisfaction.

In the brutally competitive wireless business, we’re-the-best ads are hard to avoid.


“They love to promise the world,” said Edgar Dworsky, the editor of, which, as its website says, “exposes the strings and catches in advertising fine print.”

Dworsky said most ads were hard to debunk. What, after all, does “most reliable wireless network” really mean?

The Federal Trade Commission can challenge ads as misleading, and federal law says that all assertions made in advertising must be backed up by data.

The FTC hasn’t yet gone after a wireless company, though it did recently investigate claims Sprint Nextel Corp. made about unlimited Web usage with one of its plans for BlackBerrys. (The FTC staff found the claims deceptive, but the case was closed because the agency said they appeared to have been made inadvertently on the company’s website and weren’t part of a broad marketing campaign. In addition, Sprint voluntarily initiated a refund program.)


AT&T; wireless -- which was called Cingular until this year -- sued Sprint in 2006 when Sprint also was crowing that it had the fewest dropped calls. The two reached a settlement allowing both to continue with their bragging rights.

But Sprint doesn’t fan the dropped-calls flame anymore either. Its pitch now is about delivering at “Sprint speed.”