Is Mci Comparing Its Plums With At&T's Lemons?

Will truth in advertising be the victim in the long-distance phone wars? In June, when MCI Communications Corp. rolled out its Friends Around the World discount plan, it trumpeted rates 40%, 50%, or more below AT&T's international rates. Then, on July 17, AT&T launched commercials accusing MCI of misleading consumers by comparing MCI's lowest rates with some of AT&T's highest. In one ad, a jeweler who is ticked off at MCI's ads says: "Someone ought to call 'em on it." AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel comments: "This is not something we prefer to do, but when we see misleading information in the marketplace, we have to react."

MCI denies the criticism. It acknowledges that AT&T's discount program--which is called Reach Out World--offers some rates that are less than 2% higher than MCI's. But MCI says it can justify comparing its discount rate with AT&T's standard rates because those are the ones most Americans pay when making international calls. "We would be really dumb to ignore that," says MCI spokeswoman Debra Shriver. "We think it's very fair," she adds.

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