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Judge OKs Fiber Optic Lawsuit Settlement

CHICAGO, Illinois, July 30 -- Sprint Corp. and three other telecom companies agreed Friday to pay $142.5 million to settle litigation over fiber optic cable placed on railroad right of way land. U.S. District Judge Wayne R. Andersen gave preliminary approval to the settlement in a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of an estimated 360,000 landowners against Sprint, Qwest, Level 3 and WilTel.

WorldCom Inc. was removed from the litigation when it filed for bankruptcy, according to Bloomberg News.

"The companies paid railroads to allow placement of fiber optic cables along their tracks, only to find the railroads didn't own the land," the Associated Press (AP) reported this week. "Further, the easements the railroads received from landowners, allowing them to lay their tracks, made no provision for fiber optic cable. Some easements are more than a century old."

Property owners will be eligible for payments of $2 per linear foot if they can provide proof of ownership of rights of way. A right of way is the strip of land on which railroads lay tracks. It can run through or next to private property. Under the settlement, those who claim to own the land but have a weaker level of proof can still get 33 cents per foot, the AP said. The estimated figure assumes there are 10 property owners along every 360 miles of cable.

The settlement would become final in nine months after all parties have a chance to respond. Property owners are free to opt out of the settlement if they want to fight an individual battle in the courts. Anderson also issued an order Friday putting on hold 43 similar class-action lawsuits in federal and state courts, the AP said.

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