PA Supreme Court Says County Can’t Sue Telecoms For 911 Fees

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On April 26, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Butler County will have to rely on its state’s emergency management agency (PEMA) to ensure telecom service providers collect the funds for emergency services and see they are turned over to county treasurers.  In short, the county can’t go after carriers for payment.

The case of County of Butler v. Centurylink hinged on a 1990 state statute. 

regulating 911 emergency communication services throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Per the enactment, counties bore the responsibility to operate 911 systems within their jurisdictions. In this vein, each county was obliged to make arrangements with telephone companies providing local exchange telephone service within its boundaries to provide 911 service. The enactment also created a funding stream to counties for 911 systems via the imposition of a monthly assessment as well as a specified fee attached to VoIP service.

According to Court documents, in April 2016, the County of Butler, filed a complaint against CenturyLink and other telecommunications companies contending they failed to fulfill their responsibilities under the 911 Act. The county alleged the telecoms did not adequately charge customers or collect, remit, or report certain fees due to the county.

Centurylink, et al, contended the 911 Act invests exclusive enforcement authority in PEMA and, accordingly, that the County was barred from bringing the action.

The carriers got the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry to express concerns about exposing telecommunications companies to assist local governments in their collection efforts.

The Court, in its written opinion, said there is no question the county’s interest is substantial but the legislature has ‘balanced counties’ interests against those of other co-participants enlisted under the 911 Act and provided [sufficient evidence] of its intention to centralize enforcement authority in the relevant state agency.”

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By Jim Fryer, Managing Editor, Inside Towers

May 2, 2019           

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