AT&T; says Bell Atlantic violated antitrust laws


A spat between two telecommunications giants has gotten nastier, with AT&T; Corp. now accusing Bell Atlantic Corp. of violating antitrust laws by attempting to squelch competition in the local toll-call business.

The allegation came in a counterclaim AT&T; filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Newark, N.J., in response to a Bell Atlantic lawsuit that accused the long-distance giant of misleading advertising. The latter suit, filed in February, asked the court to restrain AT&T; from advertising discounted rates for toll calls that don't cross long-distance area boundaries. These are the calls that are itemized on the local phone company's portion of customer's bills.

AT&T; charged in its suit that Bell Atlantic was using its existing monopoly to hinder other companies from competing in this market. It accused the regional phone company of failing to provide fair access to its network, charging rivals more than it charges its own customers and refusing to connect customers to competing carriers unless they dial a five-digit access code.

The suit asks that Bell Atlantic be required to let customers designate a carrier for local toll calls as easily as they choose a long-distance carrier.

Bell Atlantic's response was caustic.

"Well, AT&T; hoodwinked us all in their ads. Now they're at it again in this lawsuit," said James R. Young, Bell Atlantic's general counsel. "Instead of explaining their misleading advertising, AT&T; is attempting to shift the focus away from the real issue -- false advertising."

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