Unlimited gall to cost Verizon $1 million

New York State has given Verizon Wireless a million new reasons to understand that the word "unlimited" when used in advertising should mean what it means elsewhere in polite society.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday that his office had beaten a $1 million "agreement" out of Verizon Wireless that will see the carrier compensate 13,000 customers it had summarily disconnected from their "unlimited" plans because they had taken the word to mean what it means.

From a statement issued by Cuomo's office:

The settlement follows a nine-month investigation into the marketing of NationalAccess and BroadbandAccess plans for wireless access to the internet for laptop computer users. Attorney General's investigation found that Verizon Wireless prominently marketed these plans as "Unlimited," without disclosing that common usages such as downloading movies or playing games online were prohibited. The company also cut off heavy internet users for exceeding an undisclosed cap of usage per month. As a result, customers misled by the company's claims, enrolled in its Unlimited plans, only to have their accounts abruptly terminated for excessive use, leaving them without internet services and unable to obtain refunds.

A million bucks is essentially petty cash for a company this size - the public-relations beating will likely prove more costly - but the episode should nonetheless act as a deterrent for other carriers tempted to sprinkle their advertising with manure. At least that's the theory.

"This settlement sends a message to companies large and small answering the growing consumer demand for wireless services. When consumers are promised an ‘unlimited' service, they do not expect the promise to be broken by hidden limitations," said Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. "Consumers must be treated fairly and honestly. Delivering a product is simply not enough - the promises must be delivered as well."

As for Verizon's take on the matter? Well, it's priceless:

"We are pleased to have cooperated with the New York Attorney General and to have voluntarily reached this agreement," a company spokesman told Associated Press. "When this was brought to our attention, we understood that advertising for our NationalAccess and BroadbandAccess services could provide more clarity."

Corporate spokespeople earn good salaries to spout such nonsense, of course, but even by that standard we should take a moment to count up all the lies in this statement.

1. Verizon is pleased by this outcome. ... Bet they had a big office party.

2. The settlement was voluntary. ... Yes, in the time-honored way that criminals voluntarily confess after the cops show them the bloody glove (OK, this doesn't always work, but still ...).

3. Verizon only understood the problem after it was brought to their attention. ... He meant after it was brought to their attention 13,000 times and the subpoenas started to fly, so maybe I'm being harsh on that one.

4. And the real whopper: What we're talking about here is a lack of "clarity" in the advertising, nothing more. ... You'd think a multibillion-dollar company could afford a dictionary.

Here at Buzzblog we like to believe that we go out of our way to accept business-speak for what it is and to not immediately presume the worst about corporate intentions.

Such latitude, however, is not unlimited.

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