CenturyLink faces $7.2 million penalty for 2018 911 outage

Docket Number: UT-181051

Editor's note: This news release reflects the position of consumer protection staff of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) and NOT the views of the three-member commission. It discusses a staff investigation that the commissioners have not yet reviewed. Any positions taken or comments offered by the commission staff regarding this proceeding should be attributed clearly to UTC staff and NOT to the UTC.

CenturyLink faces $7.2 million penalty for 2018 911 outage 

Olympia, Wash. - Staff of the Utilities and Transportation Commission are recommending up to a $7.2 million penalty for CenturyLink’s role in the December 2018 911 outage that affected approximately 7.4 million Washington state residents for more than two days.

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. Staff also alleged 15 violations for failing to promptly notify Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) of the outage.

As a result of the investigation, the UTC filed a formal complaint against CenturyLink recommending a penalty of up to $7.2 million for 72,015 alleged violations of telecommunications regulations and laws.

The complaint will be scheduled for a hearing before the three-member commission. The commission is not bound by staff’s recommendation.

The nationwide outage began on Dec. 27, 2018, leaving Washington residents without 911 emergency services for almost 50 hours.

During their investigation, UTC staff examined the cause of the outage, whether CenturyLink’s restoration efforts in Washington were sufficient, whether customer communications were timely and effective, and whether the vendor facilities the company used to provide 911 service were adequate.

UTC staff found that the outage was due to a preventable technical error and related deficiencies within CenturyLink’s network. Staff found that CenturyLink incorrectly configured network devices and did not build safeguards into their traffic routing infrastructure, significantly prolonging the outage.

The company also did not provide complete failed-call data as requested by commission staff, forcing staff to use an average of emergency call volumes to determine the number of possible missed or dropped 911 calls during the outage. Based on an average of 12,000 complete 911 calls per day, staff estimates that up to 24,000 calls were affected by the outage.

In addition to recognizing violations of Washington laws and rules, the goal of the staff investigation and recommended penalty is to prevent a serious and potentially life-threatening 911 outage from reoccurring, ensuring that vital life-saving services are available for Washington residents.

Last week the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced a $500,000 settlement with CenturyLink for failing to take reasonable measures to ensure the transmission of the public’s 911 calls to emergency centers during the more than two-day outage that impacted 39 states.

The company previously paid a $2.8 million penalty for a 2014 911 outage that severely disrupted emergency services for six hours.

CenturyLink is the largest local telephone company in Washington and provides communication services for the state’s approximate 7.4 million residents. At the time of the outage, CenturyLink was the 911 service provider for Washington state.

The UTC regulates the rates and services of telecommunications companies, investor-owned electric utilities, natural gas and water companies, garbage-collection haulers, household-goods movers and passenger transportation companies, commercial ferries, pipeline companies, marine pilotage, and a low-level radioactive waste repository.?The commission does not regulate the rates of broadband services, cellular, cable, or Internet service.?