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FCC taps CenturyLink on shoulder, mumbles about a fine for THAT six-hour 911 outage

Telco to pay out eight days of profit after network goes titsup

US comms regulator the FCC has fined CenturyLink $16m (£10.8m) for a network outage that left 11 million Americans unable to make 911 calls. CenturyLink made a $772m (£520m) profit in 2014.

Last month, the watchdog charged Verizon $3.4m for its part in the downtime – and this week has smacked down the ISP and telco CenturyLink. A $1.7m fine was also levied against Intrado Communications, which specializes in providing connectivity to 911 services, for its role in the cockup.

"Americans need to be confident that the service they use to reach first responders is reliable and accessible in their time of need," said FCC chairman Tom Wheeler on Monday.

"Providers have a responsibility to ensure that Americans can use 911 to call for help any time. When a company fails to live up to its obligations, it will be held accountable."

The outage in April 2014 [report PDF] left millions in seven states without the ability to call for emergency services. No lives were lost during the six-hour blunder, although an FCC investigation showed citizens were unable to report domestic violence, assaults, car accidents, a heart attack, an overdose, and an intruder breaking into a home.

The FCC is coming down hard on telcos because this wasn't an outage caused by a natural disaster nor a terrorist attack – just a simple network failure that the agency said was entirely preventable.

The problems started on April 9, last year, just before midnight at a 911 call routing station in Englewood, Colorado, which was responsible for transferring emergency calls to eighty-one 911 call centers in California, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Washington.

There was a backup system for the 911 calls located in Miami, but the outage failed to set off an operator alarm, and so the switchover didn't happen. It was another six hours before the fault was noticed and the switch made, at which point normal service was restored.

"Delivering 911 calls is one of the most important public safety responsibilities a phone company has," said Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau. "We will aggressively enforce the Commission's 911 rules whenever the public's trust in 911 is undermined." ®

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