Washington State Attorney General: Stiffen CenturyLink Penalties Following 911 Outage

Utility regulators in the state of Washington should reject a proposed settlement involving CenturyLink and impose the maximum penalty for a 911 outage, the state’s top law enforcement official said Thursday.

Under a proposed settlement agreement entered in September between CenturyLink and the staff of the state Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC), CenturyLink would pay a fine of approximately $2.85 million following a 2014 outage that left the state without emergency services for six hours.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson urged the UTC to reject the proposal and impose a maximum penalty of $11.5 million. Ferguson’s office said more than 5,600 calls to 911 failed in the state during the six-hour outage. {ad}

“The proposed settlement is woefully inadequate,” Ferguson said. “CenturyLink must be held accountable for this preventable service outage, their failure to timely communicate the problem, and the severe impact it had on public safety.”

The UTC is scheduled to hold a hearing on Jan. 12 to consider penalties for CenturyLink, which is based in Monroe, Louisiana, and reported 2013 revenues of $475.6 million in Washington.

In a news release, Ferguson’s office said a UTC investigation revealed CenturyLink failed to properly notify emergency call centers concerning the outage. CenturyLink failed to adequately communicate to the public, the media, 911 call centers and the UTC concerning the problem and the extent to which 911 services were impacted, according to the release.

CenturyLink opposed Ferguson’s request for a stiffer penalty.  

“This overly punitive recommendation is unnecessary, as CenturyLink has already agreed to a significant penalty,” CenturyLink spokesman Mark Molzen said. “In addition, CenturyLink has demonstrated that it takes its obligations to protect public safety very seriously.”

The 911 outage in Washington was part of a broader one that affected emergency call centers in seven states and resulted in the loss of 911 service for more than 11 million people, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Those states include California, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

In April, the FCC announced a record $16 million settlement with CenturyLink and $1.4 million agreement with emergency 911 services provider Intrado to resolve an investigation into the outage. The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau investigated the outage – and the phone companies whose emergency call centers were affected – to determine what went wrong. The agency said it concluded the outage could have been averted had providers “implemented basic safeguards.”

A software coding error at Intrado’s emergency call management center in Englewood, Colorado, caused the multi-state outage, the FCC noted in an October 2014 report. The outage prevented more than 6,600 calls from reaching the appropriate public safety answering point, according to the report.

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