Charleston Co. suing telecommunications companies to recover 911 center funds

Charleston Co. suing telecommunications companies to recover 911 center funds

MOUNT PLEASANT, SC (WCSC) - A Mount Pleasant law firm filed the first South Carolina lawsuit to recover 911 center funds for Charleston County.

In the lawsuit, filed by Mount Pleasant-based Motley Rice on behalf of Charleston County, attorneys argue multiple telecommunications companies have failed to properly bill, collect and pay 911 charges from its business customers. The suit is the first of its kind in the state, Motley Rice spokesperson Laura Thompson said.

"We believe that Charleston County is potentially due millions in uncollected 911 charges," Motley Rice attorney Marlon Kimpson said.

State law allows Charleston County to impose a monthly 911 charge, currently 50 cents, on all telephone service lines in the county, Thompson said. But the lawsuit alleges that while residential customers are likely being properly billed, business customers are not, she said.

The suit alleges the telecommunications companies' conduct deprives the County of critical funding for its 911 Center, violating the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act and the county's statutory rights.

"It is not up to telecommunication companies to decide whether or not to bill its business customers and collect the 911 charges, which are critical to maintaining the 911 emergency services infrastructure," Kimpson said.

The Charleston County Consolidated 911 Center operates on behalf of emergency response agencies across Charleston County including the Charleston city, North Charleston and the Mount Pleasant.

"For telecommunications companies to not remit what is owed, poses a direct threat to the residents of Charleston County," Motley Rice attorney Lance Oliver said.

Oliver said phone carriers are, as a general trend, charging businesses a fraction of what they are supposed to charge.

"If a business has 20 [operational phones], it's pretty certain the company is not paying the 20 fees they should be paying," Oliver said.

He said his firm is naming the telecommunications companies they have reason to believe are not complying with the rules.

"One of the reasons I'm involved in this type of lawsuit is that our nation's 911 service centers need to be fully funded," Oliver said. "Helping the county get next-generation 911 technology, and paying staff members that need to be paid, is my concern."

He said the idea is to make sure 911 calls are answered as quickly and as effectively as possible. A Live 5 News investigation earlier this year determined the Charleston County Call Center has difficulty keeping a full staff, and 911 calls can take as long as a minute to be answered.

The lawsuit names as defendants AT&T Corporation; BellSouth Telecommunications, LLC; Teleport Communications America, LLC; CLEC, LLC; United Telephone Company of the Carolinas, LLC; Comcast Phone of South Carolina, Inc.; DeltaCom, LLC; Business Telecom, LLC; Knology Broadband, Inc; Knology of South Carolina, Inc.; Knology of Charleston, Inc.; Level 3 Communications, LLC; Level 3 Telecom of South Carolina, LLC; Time Warner Cable Information Services (South Carolina),LLC; Telcove Operations, LLC; McClellanville Telephone Company, Inc.; US LEC of South Carolina LLC; Windstream Nuvox, LLC; and YMAX Communications Corp.

The county is seeking the recovery of uncollected charges from the telecommunications companies and an injunction requiring them to correct their billing practices going forward.

Charleston County spokesperson Shawn Smetana said funds the county is able to recover can be used for 911 equipment, personnel and training.

Attorneys say they believe other counties are also affected by the billing.

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