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The Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a case that could force telecommunications companies to compensate pay-telephone providers billions of dollars for so-called 10-10-220 calls made by consumers, legal experts said. The case stems from federal laws and regulations requiring long-distance telephone companies to compensate pay-phone providers for calls that consumers make using special dialing codes, commonly known as 10-10-220 or coinless calls. Metrophones Telecommunications Inc., based in Washington state, sued Global Crossing Telecommunications Inc. in 2003, alleging that Global Crossing had not fully compensated it for phone calls made from Metrophones pay phones. Metrophones claims Global Crossing owed it $31,330.42 in fees and interest. While the dollar damages in that particular case are low, at issue is whether companies can sue in federal court over regulatory violations or whether they can only sue over violations of federal laws. Global Crossing has argued that federal law does not necessarily require long-distance companies to compensate pay-phone providers, but instead directs the Federal Communications Commission to issue rules governing how the pay phone providers would be compensated. Telecom providers Verizon Communications Inc., AT&T Inc. and Sprint Communications have filed briefs in support of Global Crossing. Tobias Zimmerman, a telecom attorney at the Washington-based law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss Hauer & Feld, wrote on the firm’s Web site that a ruling against the telecom giants could run into the billions. The FCC, in a 2003 order, sided with Metrophones as did the U.S. Solicitor General. Federal appeals courts have issued conflicting opinions, however, with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 2005 that Metrophones could sue in federal court over violations of FCC regulations, while the D.C. Circuit, in a separate case in 2005, found that companies could not. The justices questioned lawyers for both sides closely during oral arguments. Justice Antonin Scalia expressed concern that if all violations of the FCC’s regulations were seen as “unjust and unreasonable” and therefore equivalent to violations of law, numerous suits could be filed in federal courts and could yield contradictory rulings. The case is Global Crossing Telecommunications Inc. v. Metrophones Telecommunications Inc. (05-705). Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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