Washington attorney general goes after CenturyLink for 911 outage3 min read
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson submitted paperwork Thursday to the state’s Utilities and Transportation Commission asking it to fine CenturyLink the maximum amount allowable for a 911 outage in December of 2018 that lasted two days.
A press release from Ferguson’s office states that a failure in CenturyLink’s fiber optic network caused the widespread outage that began on Dec. 27, 2018, as more than 10,750 emergency calls were blocked from reaching a 911 dispatcher over 49 hours.
Ferguson also says the company did not notify its 15 call centers about the problem.
CenturyLink faces up to $7.2 million in penalties for violating state law and UTC rules. The company’s response is due by March 30, 2022, and the commission will hold hearings in August of 2022.
“This is not the first time CenturyLink has failed to provide reliable 911 services,” Ferguson said in the press release. “Imagine being in a car accident or having a medical emergency and not being able to reach 911. As a result of CenturyLink’s conduct, thousands of Washingtonians called 911 only to be met with a busy signal. CenturyLink must pay the maximum penalty for its violations of state law.”
An outage in April of 2014 that was blamed on a coding error by CenturyLink resulted in 5,600 failed 911 calls over six hours. The UTC fined the company $2.8 million out of a possible $11.5 million, which at the time Ferguson said was a “slap on the wrist.”
Ferguson’s office said his claims are based on an analysis by telecommunications experts.
Their assertions say that CenturyLink chose outdated technology in transferring 911 services to a new company, Comtech, and that aside from failing to notify its call centers about the outage, CenturyLink also did not notify cell phone carriers in the state about it.
CenturyLink parent company Lumen disagreed with Ferguson’s take on what happened in the 2018 911 outage incident.
“We know that when someone calls 911, seconds count and we take that responsibility seriously,” Lumen told The Center Square in an email. “The December 2018 event was caused by an unexpected issue with a vendor’s network equipment and impacted some calls that another Washington state 911 provider was responsible to complete.”
Lumen added, “We are confident the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission will reject the allegations in the complaint and in the attorney general’s testimony when the commission is presented with all the relevant information.”
Paperwork filed by Ferguson also includes testimony from residents who were impacted by the outage.
David White, of Olympia, experienced an increase in blood pressure at the time. After his wife tried calling 911 six times, she and their daughter drove him to the hospital.
“It was horrible to realize that my family had to carry me to the truck and get me to the hospital themselves, especially when I could have received treatment from EMTs right away,” he wrote. “My understanding is that by the time my wife and daughter were able to get me to the hospital themselves my blood pressure had spiked so high that getting it back down was a long process.”
White said as a result he suffers from kidney disease, glaucoma, migraines and vertigo.
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