BOSTON — The U.S. District Court of Massachusetts has granted preliminary approval of proposed settlements affecting people who own or owned land next to or under railroad rights of way.
The lawsuit in which the proposed settlements were approved, Kingsborough v. Sprint Communications Co., involves fiber-optic cable that is buried in the railroad rights of way.
Sprint Communications Co. L.P., Qwest Communications Corporation, WilTel Telecommunications and Level 3 Communications are companies that are engaged in the maintenance and commercial use of fiber-optic telecommunications systems.
Beginning in the early 1980s, the companies or their predecessors buried fiber-optic cable and installed related telecommunications equipment within railroad rights of way across the United States. A railroad right of way is a strip of land on which a railroad company builds and operates a railroad.
Sprint, Qwest, WilTel and Level 3 entered into agreements with the railroads who own or occupy the rights of way and under those agreements paid the railroads for the rights to install the telecommunications equipment. The lawsuit alleges that, before installing the telecommunications equipment, the communications companies were required also to obtain consent from those landowners who owned the land under the rights of way.
Sprint, Qwest, WilTel and Level 3 contend that the permissions granted by the railroads were sufficient, even where the railroad did not own all property rights in the rights of way and deny any wrongdoing.
The Class consists of all current or previous owners of land next to or under a railroad right of way at any time since the cables were installed. Class members can find out when fiber-optic cable was installed in a particular right of way by visiting www.FiberOpticCableSettlement.com or calling 1-888-952-9082.
Class members will have an opportunity to claim cash benefits if the court approves the proposed settlement.
The proposed settlement will provide cash payments to qualifying class members based on various factors that include:
– The length of the right of way where the cable is installed
– The state where the property is located
– How the railroad got its property rights.
The proposed settlement will also provide Sprint, Qwest, WilTel and Level 3 with permanent telecommunications easements, which give them the right to use the railroad rights of way for their equipment.