FCC, CenturyLink, West Safety Settle 911 Outage Probe

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UPDATE The FCC and two carriers — CenturyLink and West Safety Communications — reached a settlement to end an investigation into multi-state 911 outages stemming from 2018. The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau said CenturyLink and West Safety Communications have agreed to pay a total of $575,000 and committed to implement safeguards to prevent a reccurrence.

FCC rules require that carriers design and operate their networks to reliably transmit 911 calls to appropriate emergency authorities. 

This is a crucial public safety obligation. At the time, Inside Towers reported FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the, “massive ‘Sunny Day’ outage” that impacted millions of customers “completely unacceptable. Americans expect and deserve reliable phone and broadband service.”

Both CenturyLink and West Safety Communications are national carriers that frequently rely on the services of West Safety Services (parent company to West Safety Communications) to perform key parts of their obligations to connect 911 callers to 911 operators. Both CenturyLink and West Safety Communications are responsible for complying with applicable Commission rules regardless of any failures by their subcontractors or affiliates, according to the bureau. 

On August 1, 2018, a West Safety Services technician mistakenly made a configuration change to the West Safety Service 911 routing network; this resulted in the failure of CenturyLink and West Safety Communications to route 911 calls to dozens of call centers in multiple states, according to the bureau. As many as 22 million customers across 39 states were affected, including approximately 17 million customers across 29 states who lacked reliable access to 911. At least 886 calls to 911 were not delivered, according to a 2019 Commission report. 

The 911 outage lasted 65 minutes and affected other carriers — such as AT&T, Bluegrass Cellular, Comcast, Cox, U.S. Cellular and Verizon. In Minnesota alone, the Commission said CenturyLink failed to deliver 693 emergency calls to approximately 70 public safety call centers. Further details about the outage’s impacts in Minnesota are detailed in a 2019 report from the Minnesota Public Utility Commission, available here

Under the settlements, the carriers admit guilt; CenturyLink agreed to pay $400,000 and West Safety Communications agreed to pay $175,000 to the U.S. Treasury. Both companies also committed to implement compliance plans; those 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. The companies also agreed to report to the bureau on these compliance efforts for the next three years.

In exchange, the FCC ends its investigation.

November 5, 2019

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