Orange County school board's lawsuit against AT&T will move forward, records show

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — A federal judge said the Orange County Public Schools board has a valid case against AT&T and is allowing its lawsuit to move forward.

Last year, WFTV Eyewitness News reported the district was suing for fraud, after the Federal Communicationa Commission uncovered more than $1 million in alleged overbilling for phone service.

AT&T wanted the case thrown out, arguing that even if everything OCPS said is true, it doesn't constitute fraud. A judge told the company, however, actually it does.

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A transcript from inside that federal courtroom shows AT&T's lawyer argued, "all [OCPS] had to do was read the invoices that were charging them higher pricing."

AT&T’s lawyer argued the district would have known it was paying what everyone seems to agree was four to five times more than what other schools and libraries were paying for phones.

OCPS claims the company robbed students and taxpayers of more than $1-million.

"If they took money our kids need it," said OCPS grandparent Marilyn Schulz.

Outside Hillcrest Elementary on Friday, families were surprised to hear Orange County Schools had been cut out of a federal program guaranteeing the lowest telecom rates since at least 2008.

The district said it was totally unaware until the alleged overbilling was uncovered by the FCC.

Its lawyer told the judge, "The system should be protecting the schools, the hospitals and the libraries, and not leave us up, you know, to go toe to toe with these big carrier companies.”

"Why should the big corporations keep it?” Schulz said. “Because the kids need it more than the big corporations. That's the way I look at it."

After hearing from both sides, the judge ruled, saying in part, “Charging plaintiff a certain rate, and omitting information regarding [lower rates], constitutes the alleged fraudulent misrepresentation."

AT&T released a statement through a company spokesperson saying, “It is important to note that the denial of our motion to dismiss does not mean that we did anything wrong; it only means that the case will go forward.  As we have previously stated, we support the E-rate goals of providing schools and libraries with affordable broadband and telecommunications services. We continue to believe the facts will show that we complied with the FCC’s rules, and we intend to defend ourselves against this lawsuit.”

The company went on to say that it supports that federal program guaranteeing low rates for schools, but it believes it did nothing wrong by charging OCPS higher prices.

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