State Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Thursday publicly assailed a proposed settlement state utilities officials negotiated with communications giant CenturyLink as punishment for a statewide 911 outage two years ago.
Ferguson called the $2.9 million fine proposed by staff members at the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission “woefully inadequate” and asked the full commission to impose the maximum penalty of $11.5 million against CenturyLink.
The commission is to hold a hearing on the matter Jan. 12.
“It is simply unacceptable for millions of Washingtonians to be without access to essential 911 emergency services,” Ferguson said in a news release. “The maximum penalty exists for a reason. If this egregious case is not the appropriate circumstance for it, I cannot imagine what would be.”
CenturyLink spokesman Mark Molzen said the company was displeased with Ferguson’s comments.
“This overly punitive recommendation is unnecessary, as CenturyLink has already agreed to a significant penalty,” Molzen wrote. “In addition, CenturyLink has demonstrated that it takes its obligations to protect public safety very seriously.”
Amanda Maxwell is the communications manager for the UTC.
“As this is a pending legal case, it would be inappropriate for staff to comment on the case or to attempt to influence the commissioners,” Maxwell said Thursday.
CenturyLink contracts with the state to provide Washington’s 911 services and subcontracts with a Colorado-based company called Intrado for software services related to the emergency-call system.
At issue is a six-hour stretch in April 2014 when about more than 5,600 emergency calls statewide did not reach 911 dispatchers. CenturyLink blamed the outage on a software problem.
In September, the Louisiana-based company admitted fault and agreed to pay a nearly $2.9 million fine to resolve the issue.
UTC staff members signed the agreement as well and forwarded it to the commission for action.
The commission, whose three members are appointed by the governor, can accept the settlement, lower the fine or increase it.
Ferguson contended Thursday that CenturyLink did not adequately communicate to the state or public that the outage had occurred.
People with health problems, witnesses to traffic wrecks and victims of assault couldn’t get through to authorities during the outage, the attorney general said.
An Everett woman home with her 5-year-old twins was forced to arm herself with a kitchen knife to ward off an intruder after 37 unsuccessful attempts to call 911, according to the attorney general’s news release.
“CenturyLink must be held accountable for this preventable service outage, their failure to timely communicate the problem and the severe impact it had on public safety,” Ferguson said.
CenturyLink and Intrado previously settled with the Federal Communications Commission for a combined $17.4 million penalty related to the multistate outage.