Verizon, AT&T Being Sued For Handing Discounts On 911 Charges To Business Customers
Dozens of lawsuits have been filed in numerous states across America, saying that carriers such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T are giving businesses discounts on 911 emergency call services, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. Mobile operators are mandated by local laws to include a 911 charge, usually around a dollar for each phone in order to help support local 911 call centers, especially with regards to the salaries, training, and equipment for personnel who take 911 calls. But apparently, phone companies have been reducing those 911 charges for large businesses, which resulted to less funding for local authorities.
In building their case against the phone companies, officials in some of the affected counties got help from Roger Schneider, a businessman who hails from the city of Huntsville in Alabama. Schneider first became of the issue about a dozen years ago when a representative from Bellsouth (a telco company now under AT&T) offered to give Schneider’s small enterprise a discount.
Little did that representative know that Schneider was a member of the local 911 oversight board at that time. To look more into this, Schneider later decided to set up a business that would help local officials examine the issue more deeply. He went on to discover Madison County, Alabama, which has a population of around 350,000, was shortchanged over a million every year. Also, in cases that Schneider helped bring in Alabama, telcos settled for over $3 million.
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), local governments across the United States have spent over $3.1 billion on 911 emergency call services a couple of years ago, while managing to collect only $2.5 billion from 911 charges. Obviously, there is a gap of about $600 million there. Furthermore, only a dozen states let the FCC know that they collected enough from 911 charges to cover their yearly spending on emergency call services.
Both Verizon Wireless and AT&T claim today that they have always properly collected 911 charges as required by law. But it might be worth mentioning that in January early this year, AT&T won against 10 counties in another case in Tennessee. The lawsuit against AT&T claimed that the company had failed to collect 911 charges amounting to millions of dollars from business customers. The case went on to be dismissed by a federal judge due to lack of evidence. But for sure, there will be more legal battles ahead, and phone companies may not be able to get away with it.