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AT&T Ripped Off Hamilton County (Tenn.) 911 By “Intentionally Undercollecting” Fees, New Suit Alleges

Phillip Dampier November 17, 2011 AT&T, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Video No Comments
The Hamilton County’s Emergency Communications District is suing AT&T of Tennessee for what it says was an intentional decision to under-report and under-charge customers the monthly $1-3 911 fee levied on residential and commercial phone lines.  Hamilton County, which includes the city of Chattanooga, Tenn., ironically discovered the “intentional under-collection” of the mandatory 911 fees when it received a proposal from the phone company to provide telephone service to the county at a lower rate than competitors could offer, in part because AT&T offered to discount or eliminate the 911 surcharges.The county 911 agency, through its lawsuit, suggests most of the under-reporting is taking place with business customers who are using AT&T’s multiplexed Centrex phone service.  AT&T provides up to 23 voice phone lines over a single circuit, but only charges 911 fees on a single line, the lawsuit alleges.

“They were able to do what they call bundling,” ECD Executive Director John Stuermer told WRCB-TV. “Technology allows multiple phone lines over a single pair of wires, [but] we’re not getting the funding for the lines as we should have.”

Hamilton County ECD wants a U.S. District Court to fine AT&T $10,000 for each falsified financial report it has filed since 2001. Collectively, that could amount to a fine up to $1.33 million.

The lawsuit demands that AT&T open access to its billing files for a county investigation.

AT&T won’t comment on the lawsuit, but it isn’t the first time the phone company has faced scrutiny for similar under-collection of 911 fees. In 2006, the 911 district for Madison County, Ala., sued AT&T’s predecessor BellSouth for the same thing. The company settled that lawsuit privately in 2009.

WRCB in Chattanooga reports Hamilton County 911 may not be getting the funding it needs because AT&T isn’t passing along what it owes in 911 surcharges.  (3 minutes)

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