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AT&T, Verizon, others fined for 911 outages

An outage 'affected AT&T's ability to deliver 911 calls to 11 PSAPs in multiple states during this event. As a result of the outage, calls were not transmitted to those affected PSAPs,' the FCC said.

Mike Dano

December 20, 2021

4 Min Read
AT&T, Verizon, others fined for 911 outages

The FCC announced Monday another batch of fines related to network outages that blocked 911 calls.

"The most important phone call you ever make may be a call to 911," FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel explained in a release. "Sunny day outages can be especially troubling because they occur when the public and 911 call centers least expect it. It's vital that phone companies prevent these outages wherever possible and provide prompt and sufficient notification to 911 call centers when they do occur. I thank the Enforcement Bureau and the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau for their work on these investigations."

In total the FCC issued $6 million in fines across AT&T, CenturyLink (now Lumen Technologies), Intrado and Verizon. The fines generally focus on whether the providers were able to support 911 calls as well as whether they alerted the FCC and 911 operators in a timely manner about outages.

Verizon's fine totaled $274,000 for a network outage in May of 2020. According to the FCC, the outage "was the result of disruptions in two wireline networks, one belonging to a third-party and one to a Verizon-affiliated provider. Although these networks ordinarily provided redundant paths for SS7 traffic, while the third-party network was experiencing an outage, the affiliated network also went out of service for maintenance. This resulted in calls using SS7 transport to fail for a total of one hour and 57 minutes. Among the calls that failed were 911 calls originating from Verizon's network."

Another outage in September 2020 appeared to involve AT&T, Lumen and Intrado. Although FCC documents don't specifically link AT&T to Lumen and Intrado, all three companies reported network troubles that happened on the same day and involved multiple providers and vendors. "One of AT&T Corp.'s contractors for 911 aggregation service experienced a network outage that disrupted 911 call traffic to several PSAPs [public safety answering points] for which AT&T served as a covered 911 service provider," the FCC explained. A PSAP is essentially a 911 call center that connects callers with emergency responders. "This, in turn, affected AT&T's ability to deliver 911 calls to 11 PSAPs in multiple states during this event. As a result of the outage, calls were not transmitted to those affected PSAPs."

AT&T's fine totalled $460,000.

Figure 1: Shoppers walk by an AT&T storefront in Brooklyn, NY. (Source: Robert K. Chin/Alamy Stock Photo)

Shoppers walk by an AT&T storefront in Brooklyn, NY.
(Source: Robert K. Chin/Alamy Stock Photo)

Lumen blames subcontractors

Lumen faces the biggest FCC fine at $3.8 million. According to the FCC, Intrado's 911 service failed and, because Lumen uses Intrado equipment, Lumen couldn't connect "thousands" of 911 calls across Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah for more than an hour. In FCC documents, Lumen said it "acknowledges that it is responsible for complying with applicable commission rules regardless of any alleged failures by its subcontractors."

The FCC's fines against AT&T, Lumen, Intrado and Verizon come roughly a month after the agency issued a $19.5 million fine against T-Mobile. According to the agency, the T-Mobile outage in June 2020 lasted more than 12 hours and affected more than 23,000 911 calls.

Interestingly, while the FCC has been issuing 911 fines, Congress has been backing away from allocating money that would improve the nation's 911 system to support media, including pictures and videos. According to a report last month in Axios, Democrats reduced spending on next-generation 911 technologies from $10 billion to just $470 million. "To say I'm disappointed is to put it mildly," Brian Fontes, CEO of NENA: The 911 Association, told Axios. The funding is included in the Democrat's Build Back Better Act, which this weekend suffered a major blow after Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said he would not support the legislation.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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