Verizon OSS under legal assault
By Tim McElligott
TelephonyOnline.com, Aug 20 2003
Calling itself a defender of the public interests in telecommunication and broadband issues, TeleTruth, an organization led by founder and president Bruce Kushnick, charged Verizon today with violations of the New Jersey Consumer fraud Act during a press conference to discuss two pending class action lawsuits recently filed with State Superior Court of New Jersey in Middlesex County.
The two lawsuits have been filed and await an August 29 ruling on Verizon’s petition to dismiss. Kushnick said the parties have engaged in discussion and negotiation. The first suit, Junto Investments and James Dennis Cogan vs. Verizon New Jersey, alleges that Verizon knowingly billed residential and business customers for non-existent special circuits. The second suit, Risha Enterprise Engineering and Planning, and Winfred Donahue’s Answering service vs. Verizon New Jersey alleges that Verizon failed to apply a tariffed discount for small businesses instituted by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities in July of 1994.
TeleTruth’s Kushnick has expanded what began as a crusade on behalf of his Aunt Ethel in 1992 to address what he says are industry wide problems with billing by telecom carriers. He enlisted the help of Tom Allibone, president of LTC consulting and acting director of auditing for TeleTruth and hired attorney Steven Skalet, partner at Mehri & Skalet to litigate.
“We wanted to focus attention on these billing practices and problems through litigation to try and remedy what we see as consumer fraud issues in billing,” Skalet said. “Our goal is to make Verizon and other Bells focus more on providing accurate and fair bills to their consumers.”
Allibone claims to have a proprietary technique that drills down into consumers bills and the back office processes of phone companies to identify the causes of incorrectly billed charges. “We look at these computers systems and the underlying technologies they deploy and find out where things fell through the cracks,” Allibone said.
An audit of a division of the government by his company (LTC Consulting) claimed to have identified a 40% error rate in applying discounts, Allibone said. Preliminary investigation by TeleTruth includes the examination of about 100 telephone bills submitted by Verizon customers.
“The carrier chose to implement this discount plan in a certain fashion and it appears that the underlying systems they used to deploy this were not failsafe,” Allibone said. “As a result, these discounts seem not to be applied in a substantial number of cases here.”
While charging fraud, Kushnick lays the blame on Verizon’s support systems. “This is a problem with their OSS, their billing networks,” he said. “They have serious problems and have covered them [up] over the years, especially when trying to get into long-distance.”
The fraud comes in, Kushnick said, because the error rates were so high, the company must have been aware of them. “They just haven’t bothered to take any action.”
The FCC and state public service commissions that were informed of these mistakes by TeleTruth also have taken no action.
Verizon would not comment on the case. Nor would it confirm that it had entered into any sort of discussion or negotiation with the plaintiff. A Verizon spokeswoman did, however, suggest the company change its name from TeleTruth to Telebaloney.