The Shenandoah Telecommunications Company (Shentel) and the FCC have agreed to a consent decree under which the service provider will implement a compliance program and pay a civil penalty of $227,200 for failing to deliver 911 calls during a 911 outage in four West Virginia counties last April.
The FCC requires interconnected VoIP providers to transmit 911 calls to public safety answering points (PSAPs), also referred to as 911 call centers. Beginning on April 6, 2022, Shentel customers in Boone, Wyoming, Lewis and McDowell counties could hear the call center operators, but the operators could not hear them. The situation was rectified on April 22, 2022.
The consent decree provided background. Shentel was in the process of simultaneously replacing its Session Border Controllers (SBCs) and transitioning customers to a new 911 routing service. The routing service switch was done before the replacement of the SBCs was completed. The one-way audio issue affected subscribers who had the new 911 routing service but still were on the old SBCs. A technology mismatch made it impossible for the new 911 routing service to route callers’ voice signals to the PSAPs still served by the old SBCs.
Luckily, the Automatic Number Information and Automatic Location Information (ANI and ALI) were delivered to the impacted PSAPs. This enabled PSAP operators to place return calls to those who had called 911.
Sunny day outages, as the name implies, occur when there is no obvious environmental cause to a 911 outage such as an ice storm or hurricane. These appear to be on the rise. For instance, in late 2021, four companies agreed to consent decrees totaling more than $6 million associated with sunny day outages. They were AT&T ($460,000 for two investigations), CenturyLink (now Lumen Technologies, $3.8 million), Verizon ($274,000) and technology provider Intrado ($1.75 million).
In 2019, CenturyLink and West Safety Services agreed to a consent decree totaling $575,000 for a multistate outage the previous year.
Another CenturyLink sunny day outage was far larger. On December 27, 2018, a 37-hour outage affected as many as 22 million customers across 39 states. The FCC released a report suggesting that the outage illustrates the risks of what it called the telecom tech transition.