Michigan has become the second state to outlaw an Ameritech
Corp. marketing plan aimed at local cable viewers.
The Michigan Public Service Commission recently issued a
cease-and-desist order after finding that the telco's controversial
'AmeriChecks' promotion violated the Michigan Telecommunications Act.
Under the plan, consumers signing up for Ameritech New
Media's cable-television service received up to $120 per year in vouchers that could
be applied to other Ameritech services, including regulated local telephone service.
However, acting on a complaint by the state's cable
operators, the MPSC found that the program discriminated against those consumers who did
not sign up for cable service.
That made Michigan the second state to scuttle the
Ohio regulators banned the promotion last year, on the
grounds that it violated a state law prohibiting a utility from discounting service in
order to undermine competition.
The MPSC order forced Ameritech to stop accepting the
AmeriChecks coupons for local phone service. It also required the telco to pay
attorneys' fees incurred by the parties that brought the complaint, which included
the Michigan Cable Telecommunications Association, Comcast Corp. and MediaOne, an
affiliate of U S West Media Group.
But more important, according to MCTA officials, Michigan
consumers 'will think twice the next time that Ameritech comes knocking at their
Ameritech officials said the company has complied with the
commission's order, but it will continue to accept AmeriChecks for unregulated
'We see this as another attempt by the cable industry
to thwart competition,' said Ameritech spokesman Geoff Potter. 'Consumers should
be able to use these coupons for our other service, including paging, cellular and cable
The AmeriChecks plan is also being reviewed by regulators
in Illinois, a third state where Ameritech is currently offering cable service.
'Ameritech convinced people to switch their cable
service based on a promise that they can't legally keep,' said Colleen McNamara,
the MCTA's executive director, in a prepared statement. 'It's not hard to
legally market cable television -- others have been doing it for years. Ameritech entered
the cable-television market and broke the law right out of the blocks.'
Moreover, McNamara said Ameritech knew that the program
violated state law.
'When we first made Ameritech aware that they were in
violation of the law, they should have pulled the plug on the promotion,' McNamara
said. 'Instead, they actually increased their efforts. They developed a
'catch-me-if-you-can' attitude. But you can't run in front of the law