Three Memphis attorneys have filed a class-action lawsuit against BellSouth, alleging that the telephone service provider negligently and fraudulently failed to inform qualified Tennesseans of the Lifeline discount program.
Bill Ray, BellSouth's assistant vice president for external affairs for East and West Tennessee, told the Flyer that BellSouth has a policy against discussing pending litigation.
The Memphis attorneys, William F. Burns, R. Douglas Hanson, and Murray B. Wells, all of whom work for the firm of Glassman, Edwards, Wade and Wyatt, filed the complaint on behalf of Rebecca Gray, Margaret Rogers, and Hazel Cain. Each of these named plaintiffs claims to have specifically asked BellSouth representatives to include them in the Lifeline program but each says she was told that the program did not exist.
"One of our plaintiffs moved here from California and had been on Lifeline there," says Wells, one of the attorneys representing the group. "She called BellSouth and asked specifically for the Lifeline program and was told that it was not offered in Tennessee."
Wells also says the firm is currently seeking additional plaintiffs who are qualified for but not enrolled in Lifeline to add to the lawsuit.
Lifeline and Link-Up are programs jointly funded by the state and federal governments to provide residential phone service for about $8 a month to qualified Tennesseans. Anyone currently receiving Supplemental Social Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, food stamps, or Medicaid or anyone whose gross monthly income is equal to or less than 125 percent of the federal poverty level is eligible.
To fund the state portion of Lifeline, the Tennessee Regulatory Authority ordered BellSouth in 1991 to inflate its rates for all telephone lines by an additional fraction of a cent. Since 1991 BellSouth has collected this money from all Tennessee customers, though statewide only 36,000 qualified recipients are currently enrolled.