T-Mobile Agrees to Pay FCC $17.5 Million to Settle 911 Outage Investigation

Kelley Drye & Warren LLP

On July 16th, the Enforcement Bureau (Bureau) of the Federal Communications Commission (Commission) reached a $17.5 million Consent Decree with T-Mobile to resolve an investigation into two separate but related 911 service outages that occurred on T-Mobile’s network in August 2014.  T-Mobile’s settlement included a commitment by the company to strengthen its 911 resiliency and improve its network management processes.

Facts and Settlement Terms

As a wireless telecommunications carrier, T-Mobile is required to provide timely notification to all affected 911 call centers, or public safety answering points (PSAPs), of a network outage.  On August 8, 2014, the carrier’s network experienced two separate nationwide outages that lasted a combined three hours and impacted nearly all customers.  The Bureau’s investigation further determined the outages could have been avoided if the carrier had implemented certain safeguards.

Under the terms of the settlement, T-Mobile agreed to several specific action items to improve its 911 capabilities:

  • Develop appropriate measures to detect 911 service disruptions for network facilities and submit a roadmap within 120 days providing a timeline for implementing the new measures.
  • Contact all PSAPs in each licensed service area to secure accurate contact information for outage reporting.
  • Within 90 days develop and submit to the Commission a plan for PSAP notifications, including a local or nationwide outage.

Similar to many other consent decrees, T-Mobile also agreed to implement a compliance manual and a compliance training program.

911 Continues to be a Priority for the Bureau

Improving the nation’s 911 capabilities, particularly for wireless communications, has been a top priority for the Commission and enforcement has played a prominent role.

This consent decree is another is a series of enforcement actions issued in recent months for 911 service outages.  In March 2015, the Bureau released a Forfeiture Order assessing a $100,000 fine against Hinton Telephone for failing to direct 911 calls to local emergency responders.  Shortly thereafter, the Bureau announced a trio of consent decrees reached with Verizon, Intrado and CenturyLink to resolve investigations into a multi-state 911 outage that occurred in April 2014 and affected approximately 6,600 calls over a six-hour period.  The parties paid a combined $20.8 million to resolve the investigations.  The T-Mobile settlement represents the largest fine issued by the Commission for a 911 outage.

From the language of the Consent Decree, it appears the Bureau’s position is that section 4.9 of the Commission’s rules requires all wireless, wireline and VoIP providers to obtain the proper outage reporting contact information for all 911 special facilities in order to be in a position to contact the facility in the event of a 911 service outage. 

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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