CenturyLink, West Safety Agree to Pay Up for 911 Outage

Phil Harvey
11/5/2019

CenturyLink and West Safety Communications have agreed to pay settlements for a 911 outage that occurred in August 2018, the FCC announced today. And there could be more fees on the way for even larger network outages that followed later that year.

CenturyLink will pay $400,000 and West Safety will pay $175,000 to the US Treasury for the outages.

The FCC's statement today offered a glimpse into how extensive the outages were, and how one routing configuration set the whole thing off.

"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 agency wrote in a press release. "The 911 outage lasted 65 minutes and led to many 911 calls failing to reach emergency operators. For instance, in Minnesota alone, CenturyLink failed to deliver 693 emergency calls to approximately 70 public safety call centers."

The CenturyLink consent decree specifies that calls to Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) or other 911 special facilities on CenturyLink's 911 network were interrupted for 65 minutes in six states.

CenturyLink had another multistate, multihour network outage that took down 911 services in December. The FCC is investigating that one as well but no fees have been handed down as of yet.

West Safety, formerly a division of West Corp., is now part of Intrado, a company that describes itself as "controlled by affiliates of certain funds managed by Apollo Global Management." Also, West Safety is a frequent contributor to 911 calls not getting through, according to information in a February report released by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission:

"On July 9, 2018, West initiated maintenance on equipment in Miami resulting in 55 9-1-1 calls not successfully completing. On August 21st, a similar maintenance event was initiated by West with 35 9-1-1 calls not successfully completing. Like the August 1st outage, the August 21st incident was not a complete system outage because calls processing through the Englewood, CO location completed successfully," the Minnesota PUC's report stated.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS), in the same report, said it chose the current "next-generation nationwide system for its Minnesota 9-1-1 traffic because the redundant routing on a nationwide basis is cost-efficient and is supposed to prevent calls from failing. CenturyLink states that it is working with West and the DPS to correct the problems that caused the August 1st outage. DPS believes that the pace of the correction is slower than it should be."

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