Posted by Mark J. Miller on March 22, 2012 05:31 PM
Ever wonder what all those extra fees on your phone bill are paying for? Well, some part of it goes to help the deaf and hard-of-hearing be able to make phone calls. The service is given to folks “at no charge to place calls to hearing individuals through text messages over the Internet that are relayed by employees of a so-called IP Relay provider,” Reuters reports. Companies receive about $1.30 for each minute of the calls from the FCC.
Well, the U.S. government does not like how AT&T has been handling its relay services and has taken the telecom giant to court, saying that it has cheated the government “out of millions of dollars by knowingly failing to prevent swindlers from using a subsidized telephone service meant for deaf people,” the wire service notes. This is in addition to a suit filed by a whistleblower who used to work at one of the company’s call centers.
The claim is that AT&T is asking for reimbursement on calls that that have used the service for things they aren’t supposed to, such as “buying goods from merchants using stolen credit cards,” Reuters reports.
"As the FCC is aware, it is always possible for an individual to misuse IP Relay services, just as someone can misuse the postal system or an email account, but FCC rules require that we complete all calls by customers who identify themselves as disabled," said Marty Richter, an AT&T representative, to Reuters.
The Justice Department says that the FCC asked providers back in 2009 to “verify registered users' name and mailing address,” according to Reuters, and claims that AT&T didn’t even put a system in place that could show that callers were from the U.S. “out of fears that fraudulent call volume would drop after the registration deadline." AT&T, of course, is vigorously defending itself against those claims.
Update: For more context on this story, read brandchannel contributor Michael Janger's take.