CenturyLink should pay a penalty of up to $2.9 million for a statewide 911 outage earlier this year, state regulators recommended in a report released Tuesday.
A third-party vendor’s software coding error caused the roughly six-hour outage, which kept the vast majority of Washington residents from being able to call 911 late April 9 and early April 10.
CenturyLink contracts with the state to provide its 911 services.
In the report, staff members recommended that the three-member Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission issue a formal complaint against CenturyLink. The report said the company:
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• Didn’t automatically reroute calls when the system failed.
• Didn’t manage 911 services as required by law.
• Did not quickly tell 911 call centers about the outage.
They accused the company of 11,731 violations total, and said they could recommend a $1,000 penalty for each. But finding that too punitive, they settled on suggesting a fine of up to $2.9 million, instead.
That didn’t sit well with the Louisiana-based telecommunications giant.
“Given that this was a vendor problem, that the problem had never occurred before, that it was corrected promptly, and that steps have been taken to ensure it does not happen again, CenturyLink is troubled by the punitive nature of the fine recommended by the WUTC staff,” a company statement said.
While Washington was hit the hardest, the outage spanned seven states and affected more than 11 million people, according to an October report by the Federal Communications Commission, which started a proceeding looking into 911 failures.
“What is most troubling is that this is not an isolated incident or an act of nature,” the FCC report said, concluding: “Regardless of what party implements a particular component of 911 service, there must be network reliability and clear accountability from call placement to call completion.”
As technology in the 911 world has advanced, integrating new and old systems has made emergency communications systems across the country more fragile, the FCC said, using the April outage to illustrate the problem.
In that case, the system failed because of errors at a data center run by the third-party vender, Colorado-based Intrado, where CenturyLink outsources some 911 network services, the state said.
The Intrado failure prevented 5,840 911 calls from going through, according to the UTC report.
“When the incident occurred in April, CenturyLink coordinated with public safety officials as soon as Intrado made us aware of the issue and worked closely with all involved to resolve the problem quickly,” the CenturyLink statement said. “We value customer safety and make reliable 911 communications a top priority.”
In addition to the penalty, UTC staff recommended technical upgrades to prevent a repeat outage, and suggested CenturyLink report to the commission each year about maintenance and inspection of the network.
The company has said previously that safeguards were taken after the outage to keep it from happening again.
When the UTC reviews the recommendations, which the agency said could happen at any time, it will decide whether to issue a formal complaint. Should that happen, a hearing would be set.