Railroad rights of way class action suits on fiber deployments near settlement

Lightwave Staff

A series of class action suits against such well-known current and past fiber-optic network operators as Sprint, Qwest, Level 3, and WilTel Communications over whether they had buried fiber cable along railroad lines without the proper permission appears to be nearing conclusion. Settlements are being announced by Court-approved notice-program designer Kinsella Media LLC.

Finding rights of way for fiber-optic cable deployments is an ongoing challenge for carriers looking to expand their footprints. Beginning in the 1980s, the lawsuits allege, operators found willing partners in railroads, who leased rights within the easements landowners had granted them to lay track and other infrastructure.

However, the plaintiffs have asserted that the easement rights they granted the railroads didn't give the railroads sole authority to lease those rights of way for fiber deployments. Carriers should have asked permission of the landowners who continued to own the land under the rights of way,  according to the suits, which have been filed in courtrooms around the United States (see “Another bubble fallout: right-of-way lawsuits”).

The carriers, naturally, argue this isn’t the case and deny wrongdoing. Nevertheless, Kinsella Media says that several courts have granted preliminary approval for multiple class-action settlements of the cases that will provide monetary compensation to current and former owners of land next to or under the rights of way.

Class members who may be eligible for payouts include current or previous owners of land next to or under a railroad right of way, at any time since the cable was installed, in 12 states: California, Connecticut, Kentucky, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Washington. Settlements have previously been reached in an additional 29 states, Kinsella notes. Meanwhile, suits in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Texas are still pending.

In exchange for the cash payments, the carrier defendants will receive a permanent easement giving them rights to have their fiber cables occupy space in the rights of way, if they haven’t acquired such rights already.

More information on the suits and settlements can be found at www.FiberOpticSettlements.com.

For more information on fiber cable and suppliers, visit the Lightwave Buyer’s Guide.

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