TR Daily FCC Settles With CenturyLink, West Safety to End 911 Outage Probe
Monday, November 4, 2019

FCC Settles With CenturyLink, West Safety to End 911 Outage Probe

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau today announced settlements with CenturyLink, Inc., and West Safety Communications, Inc., that end its investigation of FCC rule violations in connection with a multi-state 911 outage in August 2018.

Under the consent decrees, CenturyLink (file no. EB-SED-19-00028384) has agreed to pay $400,000 and West Safety Communications (file no. EB-SED-19-00028388) has agreed to pay $175,000. But Commissioner Geoffrey Starks suggested that CenturyLink was getting off easy, citing other 911 outages involving the carrier.

“In addition, both companies have committed to compliance plans, which require them to identify risks of disruptions to 911 service, protect against those risks, ensure detection of outages, prepare to respond quickly and effectively to outages, and plan to restore services as quickly as possible,” a news release noted. “The companies have also agreed to report to the FCC on these compliance efforts for the next three years.”

“On August 1, 2018, a West Safety Services technician mistakenly made a configuration change to the West Safety Service 911 routing network, resulting in the failure of CenturyLink and West Safety Communications to route 911 calls to dozens of 911 call centers in multiple states. The 911 outage lasted 65 minutes and led to many 911 calls failing to reach emergency operators,” the news release said. “For instance, in Minnesota alone, CenturyLink failed to deliver 693 emergency calls to approximately 70 public safety call centers.”

In a statement on the consent decrees, Commissioner Starks, a former Enforcement Bureau official, suggested that CenturyLink was getting off too easy.

He said that “the Commission has historically taken strong enforcement action on violations of our 911 rules. Between 2015 and 2016, the Commission adopted consent decrees valued at more than $40 million against several major carriers for such violations. Indeed, one of the largest settlements during that period was with one of the parties involved in today’s orders – CenturyLink. In that April 2015 consent decree, CenturyLink agreed to pay $16 million to resolve an investigation into a six-hour 911 outage that affected at least two of the exact same states involved in the outage at issue today – Minnesota and North Carolina. In addition to paying a $16 million fine, CenturyLink also agreed to adopt compliance measures, including designating a compliance officer, developing and implementing a compliance plan reflecting industry best practices, and performing better coordination and supervision of subcontractors.

“Fast forward to the outage at issue today. Less than four months after expiration of the April 2015 consent decree, CenturyLink experienced yet another widespread 911 outage. Both Commission rules and FCC precedent state that enforcement penalties should increase for repeat offenders, particularly for offenses involving public safety. Yet the $400,000 settlement with CenturyLink today does not address the repeat nature of the outages, and in fact the consent decree fails to even mention the 2015 action. Today’s consent decree re-adopts measures previously instituted, including designating a compliance officer and developing and implementing a compliance plan reflecting industry best practices. Notably, even though the consent decree assigns fault for the outage at issue here to a subcontractor, the compliance plan contains nothing about better coordination and supervision of such parties. We should have taken stronger enforcement action here.”

Mr. Starks also said that on Dec. 27, 2018, “CenturyLink experienced its worst 911 outage yet, impacting as many as 22 million customers across 39 states. It has been nearly a year since that event, and almost 3 months since the Commission’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau issued its report analyzing the causes of the outage. I understand that the investigation into that incident remains ongoing, and expect that any enforcement action will adequately reflect the seriousness of the event, should there be a consent decree or item before the Commission.”

CenturyLink said in a statement today that it “is firmly committed to providing reliable 911 services to many customers throughout the nation. The August 2018 event was caused by a third-party vendor’s employee error. In order to promptly assist impacted customers, we quickly notified public safety officials in impacted areas. Subsequent to the event, we focused our efforts on future reliability by working closely with our vendor to ensure improved processes were implemented to prevent this type of error from recurring. We know that when someone calls 911, seconds count and we take that responsibility seriously. Every year, we proudly process millions of calls across our robust and reliable voice network throughout the U.S.”

West Safety Services, whose name was recently formally changed to Intrado, declined to comment today. —Paul Kirby, [email protected]

MainStory: FCC FederalNews PublicSafety

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