VoiceStream ads under scrutiny

The U.S. Better Business Bureau is looking at the fine print in some ads from network operator VoiceStream Wireless, as well as its wireless coverage claims, it said.

The U.S. Better Business Bureau is looking at the fine print in some ads from network operator VoiceStream Wireless, as well as its wireless coverage claims, it said.

On Wednesday, the BBB's advertising review unit said it had forwarded complaints about what it believes are potentially deceptive print advertising claims from VoiceStream to two federal agencies for review and possible prosecution.

The complaint is based on VoiceStream ads detailing a new calling plan the company claims offers unlimited roaming in New York state, New Jersey and Connecticut, also called the "tri-state" area. But tucked at the bottom of the page in tiny print is an explanation that the savings promised in the ad is only applicable on VoiceStream networks in the area, which do not cover the entire tri-state area.

"The National Advertising Division (of the BBB) concluded that the information in the footnote concerning the extent of coverage was not clearly and conspicuously disclosed to consumers," according to the BBB complaint.

The group is also questioning the accuracy of a chart that accompanied the advertising to show the calling area. The chart showed all three states shaded in, although as the BBB states, in reality the VoiceStream network doesn't cover the entire area.

While denying any wrongdoing, VoiceStream did nearly double the size of the type in the print advertising and increased the space between the lines in order to make the print easier to read. The change is from 4-point type to 7-point type. It also added another line to its ads saying that the map "isn't an actual representation of coverage."

A VoiceStream Wireless representative did not respond to requests for comment.

Those tweaks weren't good enough, according to the BBB. The advertising unit of the BBB forwarded a complaint to the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission.

The discrepancies were first spotted by Verizon Wireless, VoiceStream's major competitor in the Eastern United States. "Essentially, we know that it wasn't accurate," said Jim Gerace of Verizon Wireless. "We are great protectors of truth in advertising, when it comes to network size and quality."

Earlier this week, FCC Chairman Michael Powell said that his agency is investigating fake letters about Deutsche Telekom's proposed $34 billion buyout of VoiceStream Wireless.

Letters that appeared to be written by a U.S. senator and a regulator opposing the transaction circulated in Washington last week amid speculation that the FCC would fail to approve the purchase, sending VoiceStream shares down 7.9 percent.

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