CenturyLink, State Regulators at Odds Over Huge Fine for 911 Outage in 2018


Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission staff have recommended penalizing CenturyLink up to $7.2 million for a 911 outage in 2018.

"In the investigation report filed today, UTC staff found that CenturyLink committed up to 72,015 violations of four state laws and rules, including 24,000 violations for failing to transmit 911 calls," a news release about the recommendation said Tuesday. "Staff also alleged 15 violations for failing to promptly notify Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) of the outage."

The outage Dec. 27, 2018 lasted more than two days, impacted about 7.4 million people in Washington and affected 39 states.

The company said in a statement Wednesday: "The December 2018 event was caused by faulty network equipment from a third-party vendor. The WUTC staff's proposal to pursue a fine against CenturyLink is misguided and misdirected."

UTC staff held the company responsible.

They "found that the outage was due to a preventable technical error and related deficiencies within CenturyLink's network," the news release said. "Staff found that CenturyLink incorrectly configured network devices and did not build safeguards into their traffic routing infrastructure, significantly prolonging the outage."

UTC staff estimated as many as 24,000 calls were affected, and noted that the company — which was Washington's 911 service provider — didn't provide full information about failed calls during the outage.

The company's statement argued: "For the Public Safety Answering Points served by CenturyLink in Washington, CenturyLink's 911 services performed well and there were no failed 911 calls related to this event. Service providers that rely on CenturyLink's network to transport their traffic, including 911, may have been impacted. If another provider's 911 service was impacted during the event, it is their responsibility, not CenturyLink's, to ensure redundancy is built into their network. When someone calls 911, seconds count and we take that responsibility seriously."

CenturyLink paid a $2.8 million penalty for a six-hour 911 outage in 2014 in Washington.

The three-member commission doesn't have to follow the staff's recommendation. The Federal Communications Commission settled with the company for $500,000.