Bell Atlantic Corp. has launched a new advertising campaign urging people to call their local congressmen and complain about pending legislation that would "keep people from getting jobs."
The print ads appear under a headline that reads: "Can you think of a worse time to pass a law that keeps people from getting jobs?" The ads, which carry the logo of Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., don't describe the legislation or explain why U.S. jobs are threatened. They do provide a toll-free number from which callers may obtain such information.
Bell Atlantic employees manning the phone lines will offer callers a free information packet that includes a description of the legislation and the mailing address of their congressmen. The hot line will be open for at least the next two weeks.
The ads started showing up Tuesday in regional markets, including Baltimore, served by Bell Atlantic phone companies. The final print ads will run today, but a radio version will continue to be broadcast for another two weeks.
The pending legislation, it turns out, involves two bills -- one in the House and one in the Senate -- that would sharply curtail the ability of Bell Atlantic and the other six regional Bell companies to provide information services, an industry catchall term for almost any kind of information that can be transmitted electronically, from sports scores to electronic yellow pages.
The Bell companies got a court reprieve last summer from a long-standing prohibition on their providing information services, a ban that was imposed during the 1984 breakup of the telephone company. But the new legislation threatens that landmark ruling.
According to Bell Atlantic, kicking only the Bell companies out of information services would translate into lost U.S. jobs because foreign companies would in effect be encouraged to enter the growing U.S. market for those services.
Bell Atlantic reasons that the Bell companies are bound to create many jobs as they enter the market but won't if they are kept out.
"These ads are designed to hit the themes of jobs and foreign competition," said Ken Pitt, a Bell Atlantic spokesman. "These are grass roots types of issues."
That logic isn't shared by a number of groups, including the Consumer Federation of America and the American Newspapers Publishers Association.
Opponents also fear the loss of jobs, but they maintain that it would be the Bell companies, not foreign companies, whose entry into the market would reduce competition and lead to an eventual loss of U.S. jobs.
The warning of a threat from foreign telephone companies is just a ploy, they say, to divert attention from the real issue, which is whether the Bell companies would use their monopoly status to stifle competition.
The ads also are running in Washington, Charleston, W. Va., Pittsburgh, Scranton, Pa., Allentown, Pa., and Trenton, N.J.