Sprint has been ordered to pay CenturyLink $13.7 million in unpaid access charges, potentially ending an eight-year legal battle between the two companies.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rendered the judgment. The case concerns a dispute over the proper form of compensation between telephone carriers, according to Foley & Lardner, the law firm representing CenturyLink.
“We are pleased with the Fifth Circuit’s decision, and we think the court got the analysis just right,” said Michael Lockerby, the lead attorney for CenturyLink.
Sprint would not comment on the court’s decision.
Sprint delivers phone calls to CenturyLink, which routes those calls to CenturyLink’s end subscribers. Access charges are imposed by tariffs for the right to terminate calls on another carrier’s local exchange network. Sprint is required to compensate CenturyLink in return for this service and, for years, it did so without dispute, according to Foley & Lardner.
Starting in July 2009, Sprint began disputing the tariff-rate access charges assessed in invoices from CenturyLink, specifically the rates applied to VoIP-originated calls, according to the court. Sprint based its position on a new interpretation of telecommunications regulations — an interpretation with which CenturyLink disagreed.
Sprint began paying the rate the Federal Communications Commission had approved for internet service providers.
In May 2016, U.S. District Judge Robert James of the Western District of Louisiana ruled in favor of CenturyLink, holding that CenturyLink’s interpretation of the telecommunications regulations was correct. In September 2016, Sprint appealed to the Fifth Circuit.
Last fall, Verizon asked the Fifth Circuit to nullify the district court’s decision.
In their ruling, Fifth Circuit judges Rhesa Barksdale and James Graves Jr. affirmed the district court’s order that Sprint was obligated to pay CenturyLink its full tariffed rates for delivering the calls in question to CenturyLink. The court also affirmed the District Court’s award of CenturyLink’s attorneys’ fees.
The Fifth Circuit’s decision is the first appellate decision concerning the compensation for interstate VoIP calls, an issue that the telecommunications industry has debated for years.