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Hearing scheduled for BellSouth suit

Friday, August 24, 2012

A federal judge has set a hearing for September in the hope that a lawsuit filed by the county's Emergency Communication District (ECD) against a phone company can be settled.

In April, Bedford County's ECD filed a lawsuit against BellSouth (now known as AT&T), demanding the recovery of $76,000 in service charges. The suit claims the phone company has billed the ECD "far in excess" of the number of phone lines for which BellSouth reported and remitted 911 charges.

On Tuesday, Chief United States District Judge Curtis L. Collier set a scheduling conference for Sept. 14 for all parties, stating that the purpose of the meeting "will be to discuss the possibility of settlement, and to set a schedule for the expeditious management of the case."

In June, Collier ordered that the county's ECD suit be consolidated with litigation filed in seven other emergency districts following a joint motion from all the parties in the case to resolve various motions to dismiss filed by BellSouth.

The other ECDs suing BellSouth are in Hamilton, Bradley, Blount, Coffee, Roane, Franklin and Giles counties.

Last week, BellSouth filed a number of motions to dismiss "for failure to state a claim," as well as a motion for partial summary judgment against all the counties involved in the suit.

County's claims

The county's suit claims that BellSouth "has intentionally failed to fulfill its obligation to collect, report, and remit to the District 911 Charges necessary to finance the District's operations."

In 1984, the state's ECD law was enacted to establish 911 as the emergency number and to allow counties to set up emergency districts, which was done by the county commission in 1987. The General Assembly later amended ECD in 1997 to require the provision of "Enhanced" 911 service.

The suit claims that BellSouth billed the ECD for connecting to the county's 911 center and providing Caller ID database services a number of lines "far in excess of the number of lines for which (BellSouth) reported and remitted 911 Charges to the District."

As an example, the litigation claims that although BellSouth billed, and the district paid for, 11,000 lines in Bedford County in December 2010, BellSouth "falsely reported in its monthly report to the District ... that it only supplied 9,020 business and residential lines."

In addition, the District says that BellSouth has under-billed, under-collected and under-paid 911 charges for business lines provided by multiplex circuits, which are typically T-1 lines that provide 24 channels of voice communications.

The suit claims that BellSouth only charged for 911 "on only a small fraction of the voice lines," saying that the practice resulted in false reports to the district. The same claim was made about single-circuit business lines, and residential lines, stating BellSouth failed and refused to bill, collect, report, and remit to the District 911 charges for them.