The government is alleging that AT&T did not follow
protocol when it came to verifying special Internet-based phone service for the
The Justice Department has filed suit against AT&T,
alleging it improperly billed and collected millions of dollars in payments
from the FCC for IP-based Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) that allow
the hearing-impaired to place phone calls via text messages over the Internet.
AT&T says it is possible for someone to
"misuse" the system, but that it is obliged to complete calls from
those who identify themselves as disabled.
The IP Relay service is free and funded by fees on telephone
customers and government reimbursements. To cut down on fraud by "foreign
scammers," the FCC in 2009 required providers to verify users were
entitled to the free service. Justice says AT&T sought federal
reimbursement for ineligible international callers and did not verify that
callers were in the U.S. for fear that the fraudulent call volume for which it
was being reimbursed would drop.
The complaint further contends that "AT&T continued
to employ this system even with the knowledge that it facilitated use of IP
Relay by fraudulent foreign callers."
"AT&T has followed the FCC's rules for providing IP
Relay services for disabled customers and for seeking reimbursement for those
services," said an AT&T spokesman. "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."