MARIETTA, Ga., Jan. 4, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Nineteen more local governments in Georgia have filed lawsuits against telephone service providers alleging they failed to properly bill, collect, report and remit 911 charges that help fund 911 emergency service operations. The suits were brought under a Georgia law that permits local governments to audit the books and records of service suppliers related to the collection and remittance of 911 charges. These cases follow similar suits filed by Cobb and Gwinnett counties in December of 2015.
The local governments have hired The Barnes Law Group, Evangelista Worley, and Harris Penn Lowry to represent them, and have contracted with Expert Discovery, a telecommunications firm specializing in forensic analysis of 911 remittances. The suits allege as many as 55 telephone service providers in Georgia have been making inaccurate reports on the types and number of phone lines for which 911 fees are charged and paid, and that the shortfall causes significantly less funding for local governments to deliver critical 911 emergency services.
Earlier this past summer, Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Randolph G. Rich denied BellSouth's and Earthlink's request to dismiss the Cobb and Gwinnett lawsuits, a decision they have appealed. Thirteen other suits brought by Cobb and Gwinnett in state and federal courts are currently on hold pending the outcome of the appeal. The Georgia Court of Appeals has scheduled arguments for the cases in January.
One of the lawyers representing Cobb and Gwinnett Counties is former Georgia Governor Roy E. Barnes, who says: "In total, 37 suits have now been filed to recover more than $100 million for 21 different local governments in Georgia that have asked for assistance, and more local governments are considering whether to bring similar suits."
Another lawyer representing the local governments, Dave Worley, of Atlanta's Evangelista Worley, LLC, says: "These suits are necessary because the telephone service providers have a fiduciary responsibility to properly collect and remit 911 charges on behalf of the local governments. Based on the evidence we've reviewed, we believe that responsibility has not been met and our investigation over the last several years suggests the underbilling practice is as widespread in Metro-Atlanta as it is in the rural parts of the state."
The suits allege that several telephone service providers in Georgia, including AT&T, Bandwidth and Windstream to name a few, "have failed to bill, collect, report, and remit 911 charges in accordance with the law." The alleged underbilling practices are mostly geared to Georgia businesses in order to gain a competitive advantage over other telephone companies that follow the law. The suits allege that local governments in Georgia have been forced to use their operating and capital funds to close the shortfalls to keep the 911 centers operating. Barnes further says that: "Residential customers are being forced to pay a disproportionate share of 911 expenses, through increased 911 rates or property taxes, and that was never the intent of Georgia's 911 Act."
According to Roger Schneider, founder and president of Expert Discovery, confidentiality provisions, the lack of technical knowledge and telecommunication expertise allow telephone service providers to keep these under-billing practices from being detected. The real driver is that they're under tremendous competitive pressure since the break-up of the Bell system to retain customers or win new ones that are increasingly shopping almost exclusively on price.
"What is most unfair is a residential customer often ends up paying more than business customers. For example, a residential customer with one house line, one home business line and three cell phones in the family, pays the full freight of 911 charges, but a large business with 300 lines -- each capable of initiating a call to 911 -- is being charged a fraction of 911 charges for all those lines," said Schneider. "To be clear, it's not the fault of any business as they are just paying the bill they receive. These billing practices, however, are completely illogical, unfair and indefensible. The telephone service providers know it, yet they continue to do it the same way. We intend to shed light on these practices so that courts can decide whether telephone service providers are meeting their obligations under the law."
The lawsuits were filed on January 4, 2017 in six different courts throughout Georgia. The Defendant telecommunication companies have 30 days to respond. A list of the Counties, Courts and Defendants listed in the lawsuits follows.
LIST OF GEORGIA COUNTIES PURSUING RECOVERIES
Clay, Cobb, Crisp, DeKalb, Dooly, Gwinnett, Fulton, Macon-Bibb, Marion, Muscogee, Quitman, Randolph, Talbot, Taylor, Schley, Stewart, Sumter and Webster
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA, ATLANTA DIVISION
1. Bandwidth.com CLEC, LLC and Bandwidth.com, Inc.;
2. Level 3 Communications, LLC and TW Telecom Holdings, LLC;
3. XO Communications Services, LLC;
4. Windstream Communications, LLC, Windstream NuVox Communications, LLC, US LEC OF GEORGIA, LLC, (DELAWARE), LDMI Telecommunications, LLC, Talk America, LLC F/K/A/ Talk America, Inc., and Network Telephone, LLC F/K/A Network Telephone Corporation F/K/A Network Telephone, Inc.;
5. Verizon Communications, Inc., Verizon Enterprise Solution LLC, Verizon Long Distance LLC, Verizon Wireless (VAW) Inc., ALLTEL Communications, LLC and MCIMetro Access Transmission Services, LLC (DELAWARE);
6. YMAX Communications Corp.;
7. Comcast Business Communications, LLC, Comcast Phone of Georgia, LLC, Comcast IP Phone LLC, Comcast IP Phone II, LLC and New Global Telecom, Inc.;
8. BroadRiver Communication Corporation and Virtual Citadel, Inc. F/K/A/ BroadRiver, Inc.;
9. Broadvox, LLC, Broadvox-CLEC, LLC, Broadvox, Inc. and Cypress Communications, LLC (DE);
10. Peerless Network of Georgia LLC, Peerless Network, Inc., and Peerless Enterprise Cloud Services, LLC;
11. Inteliquent, Inc.;
12. Charter Fiberlink – Georgia, LLC and Charter Advanced Services (GA), LLC;
13. Cox Georgia Telcom, LLC and Cox Communications, Inc.;
14. Knology of Georgia, Inc. and Knology Broadband, Inc.;
15. Local Access, LLC;
16. Mediacom Communications Corporation, MCC Telephony of Georgia, LLC and MCC Georgia, LLC;
SUPERIOR COURT OF BIBB COUNTY, GEORGIA
17. Public Service Telephone Company;
SUPERIOR COURT OF GWINNETT COUNTY, GEORGIA
18. BellSouth Telecommunications, LLC d/b/a AT&T GEORGIA, AT & T Corp., New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC;
19. Earthlink, Inc., Earthlink, LLC, DELTACOM, LLC, Business Telecom, LLC;
20. Cbeyond Communications, LLC, Birch Communications, Inc., Birch Telecom of the South, Inc. d/b/a Birch Communications;
SUPERIOR COURT OF PULASKI COUNTY, GEORGIA
21. ComSouth Telecommunications, Inc., ComSouth Telenet, Inc., ComSouth Teleservices, Inc. and ComSouth Telesys, Inc.;
SUPERIOR COURT OF SUMTER COUNTY, GEORGIA
22. Citizens Telephone Co., Inc.
John R. Bevis
The Barnes Law Group
(770) 227-6375 | email@example.com
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SOURCE The Barnes Law Group