Ever since forcing the T-Mobile affair on U.S. regulators, AT&T’s relationship with the government has been under scrutiny. Although it’s not official, AT&T has been closely monitored by the FCC and Justice Department. Now, the company is being sued by the U.S. government over a bill that involves a program for the hearing impaired.
The Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently found out that AT&T decided to bill the government for services for the hearing impaired that were subjected to scammers. Allegedly, mainly from Nigeria, scammers used AT&T’s service for the hearing impaired although they weren’t eligible.
AT&T and the government have put together a program that allows hearing impaired people to make phone calls by typing their message online. Nigerian scammers seem to have used the service from anything from fraud to identity theft. Poised to be in for a considerable revenue loss as well as damage of its public image, AT&T is considered to have hidden that from the government and simply sent in the bill, thus keeping its call volume intact. Basically, the company is charged by U.S. regulators for consciously implementing procedures that were not useful in pointing out to the misuse of the service.
The FCC stumbled upon AT&T’s blunder by investigating system abuses. As of 2008, U.S. regulators required all providers of telecommunication service to implement all the necessary procedures that will register users and check their information. However, AT&T seemed to have failed doing that, and the Justice Department is accusing the company of causing a loss worth millions of dollars.
Stuart Delery, acting assistant attorney general for the civil division of the Justice Department, said: “Federal funding for Telecommunications Relay Services is intended to help the hearing – and speech – impaired in the United States. We will pursue those who seek to gain by knowingly allowing other to abuse this program”.
But AT&T defends itself, saying it only “followed the FCC’s rules”. The company’s spokesperson Marty Richter explained “it is always possible for an individual to misuse IP Relay services, just as someone can misuse the postal system or an email account” and the FCC is aware of it. Richter continued saying the “FCC rules require that we complete all calls by customers who identify themselves as disabled”.