Telecoms Withheld $41M in 911 Fees, County Says

     MEDIA, Pa. (CN) – Verizon, Earthlink and other telecommunication providers have withheld $41.4 million in 911 fees since 2009, Delaware County, Pa., claims in court.
     Pennsylvania’s 911 systems are already overburdened and underfunded, particularly in the densely populated Delaware County, which now faces “even greater financial pressure” from a recent policy statement by the Federal Communications Commission, according to the complaint filed Monday in the court of common pleas.
     The FCC now “requires all wireless carriers and interconnected text messaging application service providers to enable customers to send emergency text messages to 911 call centers,” the complaint states.
     Delaware County says 911 systems now face a dramatic increase in the volume of communications “and in terms of the technological and personnel requirements for handling them.”
     Though the county should be able to look to telecoms for help shouldering these costs under a state law governing 911 services, it says Verizon and the other defendants “are not charging, collecting, reporting, and remitting to the county the proper 911 assessments.”
     Businesses that lease multiple phone lines from telecoms represent the largest source of untapped income, Delaware County says, noting that the “defendants knowingly, recklessly, or negligently fail to charge the 911 assessments with respect to each line.”
     Delaware says Section 5301 of state law 35 requires $1 a month for each wireless service customer and telephone number, but that an “information monopoly” helped the telecoms conceal their failure to collect and remit the proper 911 assessments.
     Though a 2012 report by the state assembly’s budget committee concludes that the assessments were improperly remitted, the lack of access to the underlying information kept the committee from identifying the cause of the shortfall, according to the complaint.
     Delaware County says it then hired consultants to complete the investigation, which included an examination of the last six years of the “line number portability database.”
     This analysis allegedly revealed underpayments by the telecoms of $6.9 million a year.
     Delaware County says 911 system funding costs have now fallen to taxpayers as it “has had to spend more than $20 million more than it has received to maintain its 911 system.”
     “This shortfall would have been substantially ameliorated if not eliminated had defendants collected the 911 assessments as required under the act,” the complaint states.
     “Channelized services” that the telecoms provide large businesses are particularly to blame for the undercharging prevalence, according to the complaint.
     Rather than charge each landline capable of making an outgoing call, a service such as primary rate interface allows multiple “transmissions or pathways” for one line.
     AT&T, Comcast and about 14 other telecoms are named as defendants.
     Spokesmen for Verizon and Comcast declined to comment on the case.
     The county is represented by Joshua Wolson of Dilworth Paxson in Philadelphia.

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