U.S. Supreme Court rules for Sprint in fees fight


By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON, Dec 10 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court onTuesday ruled for a Sprint Nextel Corp subsidiary lockedin a dispute with the utilities regulator in Iowa.

The high court said in a unanimous ruling that a federaldistrict court can consider a lawsuit filed by subsidiary SprintCommunications Co challenging an Iowa Utilities Board decisioneven though the legal process in Iowa courts is not yetcomplete.

The dispute arose in 2009 when Sprint declined to pay accesscharges for its calls carried by Iowa Telecom - now WindstreamIowa Communications - that were transmitted over the Internetrather than the traditional phone network.

The Iowa Utilities Board, which regulates telecommunicationsin the state, said Sprint was required to pay.

Windstream had billed Sprint for access charges for theInternet calls, known as "voice over Internet protocol" or VoIPcalls.

Sprint maintains that under the federal TelecommunicationsAct of 1996, VoIP calls are an "information service" not a"telecommunications service" and that therefore the company doesnot have to pay access charges.

Sprint challenged the utilities board decision in federalcourt and state court in 2011.

A federal judge and the St. Louis-based 8th U.S. CircuitCourt of Appeals both said the state proceeding had to becompleted first.

In Tuesday's ruling, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,the Supreme Court said that the federal lawsuit could go ahead.

The case is Sprint v. Jacobs, U.S. Supreme Court, No.12-815.

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