CenturyLink to Pay Record FCC 911 Outage Fine

MSO Calls It One-Time, Third-Party Mistake

CenturyLink has agreed to pay the Federal Communications Commission $16 million, the largest-ever 911 outage-related fine, and Intrado Communications will pay the agency another $1.4 million to settle an FCC investigation into April 2014 911 outages that the commission said prevented 11 million people from reaching emergency call centers for more than six hours, but had resulted from a "sunny day" failure.

CenturyLink said it was a onetime occurrence that the MSO has taken steps to prevent in the future.

“CenturyLink takes 911 reliability very seriously," the company said in response to the fine. "This outage was caused by a third-party vendor’s equipment failure that had never occurred before, and we worked with the vendor to implement measures to ensure that this type of failure will not happen again. CenturyLink values customer safety and makes reliable 911 communications a top priority.”

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler also commented on the settlement: “Americans need to be confident that the service they use to reach first responders is reliable and accessible in their time of need. Providers have a responsibility to ensure that Americans can use 911 to call for help any time. When a company fails to live up to its obligations, it will be held accountable.”

The difference in fines between the two companies had to do with the difference in the number of call centers affected.

That failures, the FCC's Enforcement Bureau said, resulted in more than 6,600 missed calls, including calls about "domestic violence, assault, motor vehicle accidents, a heart attack, an overdose and an intruder breaking into a residence,” a list it added to make the point about the potential consequences of 911 outages.

The FCC has of late been putting an exclamation point on the need for reliable 911 service, including making statements at Hill hearings, where the chairman and commissioners have relayed the story about the woman who drowned because the 911 call center she was talking to was unable to identify her location.

Both CenturyLink and Intrado Communications agreed to compliance plans that require risk management processes in the continued roll-out of next generation 911 service. They will have to:•               

•       "Identify risks that could result in disruptions to 911 service;

•             Protect against such risks;

•             Detect future 911 outages;

•             Respond with remedial actions, including prompt notification to affected emergency call centers; and

•             Recover from such outages on a timely basis."

In addition they will have to improve oversight of subcontractors, make sure contact information is up-to-date in emergency call centers and periodically review procedures.

The compliance regime is the same one Verizon agreed to in its $3.4 million settlement last month over a similar outage.