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June 02, 2015

Delco sues phone companies for underfunding 911 services

Suit claims 19 providers owe county $41.4 million

Courts Funding
Delaware County Council Delaware County Government/for PhillyVoice

Delaware County Councilman John P. McBlain speaks during a press conference announcing the county's lawsuit against 19 telephone company

Delaware County filed a lawsuit Monday, in the County Court of Common Pleas, against 19 phone companies for not paying their fair share of the bill for local 911 emergency services.

The suit claims the phone companies failed to bill, collect and subsequently pay to the county $41.4 million in required 911 assessment charges over the course of six years.

The county says that the "shaving" of 911 fees occurred mostly the providers' medium- and large-sized company clients. 

Delaware County Council Chairman Mario Civera Jr. said the companies' failure to properly provide the funds required under state law to help pay for emergency services has left the burden on the taxpayer. 

The suit claims that because the telephone companies didn't pay, the county has been forced to draw funds from other sources, mainly its general fund.

"This is a tax burden on all of our residents, but it especially impacts our seniors and lower-income residents,” Civera said in a statement.

The lawsuit alleges the phone companies are responsible for assessing their own 911 service collection fees, but a 2012 Pennsylvania Legislative Budget and Finance Committee report found companies have not been providing verified documents to support their assessments, while the state and counties lack the authority to audit them. 

The township hired Phone Recovery Services, a phone data collection service, to assess the unpaid 911 fees. The firm's examination, said president Roger Schneider, found an example of a family being correctly charged $5 per month, $1 per line, for 911 services, while a large business with 350 lines capable of reaching 911 was being charged a monthly fee of only $3. 

That, however, is not the fault of the business, but instead the telephone provider, Schneider said.

“They know it, yet they continue to do it the same way because they can," Schneider said. "The current law is clear about what should be charged and the providers are duty-bound to understand and enforce the law.” 

The 19 companies have 20 days to respond. The county is being represented by Dilworth Paxson attorneys with the assistance of the Phone Recovery Services.