T-Mobile Settles 911 Outage Case for $17.5 Million

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By Lydia Beyoud

July 17 — The FCC added another notch to its belt of record-setting fines with the announcement of a $17.5 million settlement with T-Mobile U.S. Inc. to resolve an investigation into two “sunny day” network 911 outages in 2014.

The fine is the Federal Communications Commission's largest for a 911 service outage, topping a $16 million settlement with CenturyLink Inc. in April. It is the fourth such case resolved by the FCC Enforcement Bureau this year, with other fines levied against Intrado Communications and Verizon Communications Inc.

“Without access to functional, reliable 911 service, consumers are at risk of being unable to complete one of the most important calls they may ever have to make,” the FCC said in the consent decree.

The FCC was investigating two related 911 service outages that occurred Aug. 8, 2014. They lasted a total of three hours “and prevented almost all of T-Mobile's then 50 million customers from being able to reach first responders to report emergencies during the outages,” the FCC said in its consent decree.

The outages occurred due to a planned software upgrade that interfered with the routing of 911 calls, the FCC said. Further, the Enforcement Bureau charged the carrier with failure to timely notify all affected public safety answering points of the outages, as required by law.

T-Mobile will have to implement new compliance and reporting measures as part of its settlement, the FCC said.

New Rulemaking Proposed

The commission has been active on 911-related rulemakings since 2014, with proposed rules meant to increase 911 reliability and accountability as the nation's phone networks shift from traditional copper lines to fiber-optic cable and other technologies as part of the so-called tech transition.

The FCC adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking in November 2014 intended to expand the scope and definition of what type of 911 provider is considered a “covered 911 service provider,” which entails various responsibilities including network reporting obligations.”

But telecommunications providers have criticized the proposals for what they say would impose unnecessary new costs without meeting the agency's public safety goals.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lydia Beyoud in Washington at lbeyoud@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

Text of the consent decree is at http://op.bna.com/der.nsf/r?Open=tbay-9yhn28.