FCC: Equipment Failure Caused CenturyLink Network Outage

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The FCC on Monday released a report detailing the cause and impact of a nationwide CenturyLink network outage that occurred last December, along with recommendations to help prevent similar outages from happening again. 

FCC Chairman Pai called the, “massive ‘Sunny Day’ outage” that impacted millions of customers “completely unacceptable. Americans expect and deserve reliable phone and broadband service—especially the ability to call 911.” 

He cautioned other carriers “to take heed” of the lessons learned from the incident.  

Beginning on December 27, 2018, CenturyLink experienced an outage on its fiber network that lasted for almost 37 hours. The outage was caused by an equipment failure that was exacerbated by a network configuration error, according to the report prepared by the agency’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. 

The outage affected other carriers — such as AT&T, Bluegrass Cellular, Comcast, Cox, U.S. Cellular and Verizon. It also affected businesses customers and consumers who relied upon CenturyLink’s transport services, which route communications traffic from various providers to locations across the country. 

The outage resulted in extensive disruptions to phone and broadband service, including 911 calls. 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 the Commission report.

The report outlines lessons learned from the incident and identifies specific network reliability best practices that, if implemented, could have prevented the outage, or at least mitigated its effects, states the agency. These include:

  • Turning off or disabling system features that are not in use;
  • Including in network monitoring memory and processor use alarms that are regularly audited to ensure functionality and evaluated to improve early detection and calibration; and
  • Having standard operating procedures for network repair that address cases where normal networking monitoring procedures are inoperable or otherwise unavailable.    

Next, the bureau will contact stakeholders to promote best practices and contact other major transport providers to discuss their network practices. The bureau will offer its assistance to smaller carriers. 

August 20, 2019

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