FCC Promises to Hold 911 Providers Accountable for Outages, Courtesy TRDaily

Telecom carriers that provide 911 services will be held fully accountable for issues that occur on their networks regardless of whether the issue is caused by a third party, David Simpson, chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau¸ said today during an address to attendees of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ summer meeting.

Both the FCC Bureau and the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission are currently investigating a multi-state 911 outage that occurred in April.  Technical problems in an Intrado facility in Colorado prevented more than 4,400 911 calls from being forwarded to public safety answering points (PSAPs) in Washington, Minnesota, and North Carolina.  Several other states including California were affected by the outage.  CenturyLink, Inc., and its vendor Intrado, Inc., told the FCC and the UTC that they have taken steps to avoid another major 911 outage.

UTC Commissioner Phil Jones said that fortunately no lives were lost and nothing really bad happened as a result of the 911 outage.  He said that UTC staff hopes to release a report on the outage within a couple months.  Due to the ongoing investigation, Commissioner Jones said he could not comment further on the outage.

Mr. Simpson said the FCC is also looking into the outage, as well as the larger issues having to do with the reliability and resiliency of the networks. Mr. Simpson stressed that the FCC and states need to work together and achieve “a new level of federal and state cooperation” in order to ensure next generation 911 systems work properly.

“The federal-state partnership is crucial to ensure the public safety of all Americans,” he said. “We can’t do this without the efforts and partnership with state and local regulators.”

Due to the number of states affected, Mr. Simpson said that the recent 911 outage was one of the most widespread and significant 911 outages to date.  “The geographic scope is remarkable in a bad way.”

“It is a warning to all of that we don’t have the luxury of time to address these issues,” he said “We can’t afford to let another outage like this happen again.”

FCC comments revealed that the outage was not caused by the provider — CenturyLink — but by a technical problem by Intrado, the third party vendor.  Mr. Simpson said that even the outage was not caused by failure of the primary carrier’s network, it’s necessary that the primary carrier is held accountable.

And as 911 functionalities migrate to the cloud, it’s important to ensure that the transition process is open and transparent, he said. It’s also necessary to identify and close accountability gaps that affect regulators’ ability to address issues.  “We must take these steps before more outages occur,” he said.

“Assigning failures to third-party contractors does not make those failures acceptable and doesn’t absolve carriers from their responsibility,” Mr. Simpson said “We can’t wait for the system to fail again before we address these issues. -Carrie DeLeon, carrie.deleon@wolterskluwer.com