FCC Announce $17.5 Settlement with T-Mobile over 9-1-1 Outage

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau announced a $17.5 million settlement with T-Mobile US, Inc., to resolve an investigation into two 911 service outages on the carrier’s national network last year.

T-Mobile’s network suffered two separate but related 911 outages on Aug. 8, 2014 that lasted a combined three hours.  The outages prevented callers nationwide from reaching first responders when making calls to 911 on T-Mobile’s network, the bureau said in a public notice today.

In its investigation, the bureau found that T-Mobile did not provide timely notification of the outages to all affected 911 call centers, as required by FCC rules.  The probe also found that the outages were the result of T-Mobile’s failure to implement “appropriate safeguards” in its 911 network architecture.

In addition to the $17.5 million fine, T-Mobile has agreed to implement a compliance program to “strengthen its 911 resilience and its 911 risk management processes.”  T-Mobile also must maintain updated contact information for 911 call centers and adopt a plan to notify 911 call centers during outages.  Finally, the consent decree requires T-Mobile to file detailed compliance reports with the Enforcement Bureau.

“The Commission has no higher priority than ensuring the reliability and resilience of our nation’s communications networks so that consumers can reach public safety in their time of need,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “Communications providers that do not take necessary steps to ensure that Americans can call 911 will be held to account.”

“This Consent Decree includes a commitment by T-Mobile not only to address risk of 911 service failure, but also to improve its 911 call center reporting and its ability to recognize, respond to, and rapidly recover from 911 disruptions,” said David Simpson, chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.

“The safety of our customers is extremely important and we take the responsibility to provide reliable 911 service very seriously,” said Kathleen Ham, vice president-federal regulatory affairs at T-Mobile, in a statement. “We have made significant changes and improvements across a number of our systems since last year, and we will continue working to improve these critical systems with our partners to provide the standard of service our customers rightly expect from T-Mobile,” she said.

The bureau said the settlement includes the largest fine it has assessed against a carrier in connection with a 911 outage and the fourth major 911-outage related enforcement action it has taken this year.  The FCC previously entered into a $16 million settlement with CenturyLink, Inc., a $1.4 million settlement with Intrado Communications, and a $3.4 million settlement with Verizon Communications, Inc., in connection with an April 2014 multistate 911 outage in April 2014. – Brian Hammond, brian.hammond@wolterskluwer.com