The Federal Communications Commission has penalized two companies that were involved in a 911 emergency call outage that affected 11 million people.
The agency fined CenturyLink $16 million for its role in the incident, which happened in April of last year. The penalty is the biggest the FCC has ever issued for a 911-related violation. The agency also fined Intrado Communications, a Boulder, Colorado-based provider, a total of $1.4 million. The amount was determined by the number of emergency call centers that the company operated in the areas that were affected.
The incident knocked out 911 services for a total of six hours, severing people in seven states from critical services. CenturyLink operates call centers in Washington, North Carolina and Minnesota. Intrado Communications has facilities in South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Florida. According to the FCC, about 6,600 911 calls went unanswered, including calls for motor vehicle accidents, domestic violence, an overdose, and a home invasion.
“Americans need to be confident that the service they use to reach first responders is reliable and accessible in their time of need,” Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the FCC, said in a statement.
“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 fine comes a month after the FCC issued a $3.4 million penalty to Verizon for its role in the incident. The FCC defined the outage as a “sunny day” failure that was not due to bad weather or a natural disaster. The service interruption was instead caused by a software coding error. According to the agency, the outage exposed vulnerabilities in the transition of 911 services to IP-supported technologies. In its investigation, the FCC found that the incident could have been prevented if the carriers had put basic safeguards in place.