T-Mobile to pay $17.5 million fine for 911 outages

A settlement with the FCC requires the company to improve the reliability of its emergeny dialing service

U.S. President Barack Obama has nominated Tom Wheeler to be chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

U.S. President Barack Obama has nominated Tom Wheeler to be chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

T-Mobile USA will pay a US$17.5 million fine in a settlement with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission for two 911 emergency dialing outages on the company's mobile network last year.

The separate but related outages left T-Mobile customers without the ability to dial in to emergency response centers for about three hours. In the settlement, T-Mobile agreed to strengthen its 911 service procedures and adopt compliance measures ensuring it adheres to the FCC's 911 service reliability and outage notification rules in the future, the agency said in a press release.

The settlement represents the largest fine that the FCC has assessed against a carrier in connection with a 911 outage.

The FCC 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," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a press release. "Communications providers that do not take necessary steps to ensure that Americans can call 911 will be held to account."

T-Mobile's network suffered two 911 outages on Aug. 8, 2014. Both outages were nationwide outages, affecting almost all of T-Mobile's then 50 million customers. It's unclear how many T-Mobile customers tried to call 911 during the outages.

T-Mobile, in a statement, said the safety of its customers is "extremely important and we take the responsibility to provide reliable 911 service very seriously."

The company said it has made "significant changes and improvements across a number of our systems" since last year and will continue working to improve those systems.

The FCC Enforcement 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 investigation also found that the outages would have been avoided if T-Mobile had safeguards in its 911 network architecture.

The compliance program in the settlement requires T-Mobile to develop new processes to identify risks that could result in disruptions to 911 services, detect future outages and take remedial actions, including prompt notifications to affected emergency call centers.

This settlement is the fourth major enforcement action involving 911 outages that the FCC has taken this year. In April, the FCC entered a $16 million settlement with CenturyLink and a $1.4 million settlement with Intrado Communications in connection with an April 2014 multi-state outage that lasted for longer than six hours. In March, the FCC settled with Verizon for $3.4 million for the same outage.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags telecommunicationregulationTom WheelerU.S. Federal Communications CommissionmobilegovernmentT-Mobile USA

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