FCC Says It Appears Network Reconfiguration Caused 911 Outages

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Ever since the AT&T-Mobility 911 outage that affected customers in several states the night of March 8, the FCC has been trying to figure out what happened. Preliminary information indicates the outage lasted five hours in the primary affected areas (the southeast, central, and parts of the northeast) but its effects spread throughout the regions, according to Public Safety & Homeland Security Acting Bureau Chief Lisa Fowlkes.

“It appears AT&T re-configured its network,” and then the routing for 911 calls failed, said Fowlkes, as she updated commissioners during Thursday’s FCC meeting. “They went to a backup call center for manual processing.” The volume was too much which meant calls were blocked. Affected customers heard fast ringing or nothing, public safety officials told the FCC in the affected areas. On an average day, the provider carries some 44,000 VoLTE calls nationwide. During the outage some 12,000 of those calls couldn’t get through to 911, according to the FCC. 

State 911 entities notified customers of back-up emergency numbers on social media, television via screen crawls and radio. Fowlkes said there was another, smaller outage on March 11, that AT&T attributed to a hardware failure. Only a small number of calls were affected because they went to the carrier’s 3G network. The carrier says the two outages were not related, according to Fowlkes, who stressed the results for both outages are preliminary and the information could change. She said AT&T is cooperating fully with the investigation.

Wanting more information on these incidents and to learn how to prevent future outages, the FCC announced a Notice of Inquiry. The agency also did this after the Derecho affected the Washington, D.C. area in 2012, and two years ago during an investigation of 911 outages in six states.

March 24, 2017   

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