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FCC to Verizon: Blocking 911 calls? That's a $3.4m paddlin'

Telco gets fined about an hour's worth of profit for threatening lives

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has extracted a $3.4m fee from Verizon for its failure to provide customers with emergency phone service last year.

The FCC said that it had agreed to the fee with the US telecoms giant after an April 2014 outage that left 11 million people without phone coverage, including for the 911 emergency service. An investigation showed that the telco also failed to report the outage as quickly as it should have.

The FCC said that Verizon's mishap left 750,000 people represented by 13 emergency call centers in nine Northern California counties, as well as six other Western US states, without phone access.

The six-hour outage (PDF), which took place during the night of April 9, 2014, resulted in 4,300 emergency calls failing in the Western US due to a failure at a Colorado call-routing center. No deaths were reported during the outage.

The fine will hardly make a dent in the returns for a company that reported $7.8bn in profit last quarter. Still, the FCC believes that the fine will give operators incentive to make sure phone lines are always working.

"We take seriously our obligation to ensure the nation’s 911 systems function reliably," said FCC chairman Tom Wheeler.

"We will continue to work with providers to ensure that advances in 911 technologies lead to improved communications between citizens and first responders."

As part of the agreement (PDF), Verizon will also agree to put measures in place to cover future outages and better respond to future disruptions that could threaten the availability of emergency service. Those measures include better identifying potential causes of outages, detecting disruptions and putting measures in place to cover for service outages. ®

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