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Verizon slams MCI for 'slamming'

By LOUIS HAU, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 16, 2002

It may be a sign of things to come: Verizon sent a letter last week to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities complaining that MCI had switched more than 850 Verizon customers to an MCI local calling plan without their knowledge.

Switching consumers to a different phone plan without their consent is commonly known as "slamming." But slamming used to be a practice restricted to the long-distance market. Fierce competition for long-distance customers has long served as a temptation for unscrupulous sales practices. But there's little such competition in most areas for local-calling services, which are still dominated by the old-line "Baby Bell" companies.

Verizon says that its affected customers in New Jersey have been switched to MCI's the Neighborhood, a partnership between MCI and Z-Tel Technologies Inc. of Tampa, under which customers pay a fixed monthly fee for unlimited local and domestic long-distance phone calls. Z-Tel declined to comment on Verizon's slamming charges.

Tim Guillen, a spokesman for MCI parent WorldCom, said MCI "doesn't tolerate slamming" and is investigating Verizon's complaints in New Jersey. Guillen said Verizon has made similar charges against MCI in other markets, charges that he said were baseless.

"They still can't believe that customers would want to leave for another carrier," he said.

In March, MCI agreed to pay $8.5-million in penalties and reimbursements to California state regulators to settle charges of slamming and other deceptive sales practices.

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