How States Responded to the Loss of 911 and Other Services


CenturyLink’s recent outage is being investigated by at least two states, in addition to the FCC.

CenturyLink's widespread outage last week not only affected 911 service for customers but caused issues for state governments as well, with agencies in Washington state and Wyoming vowing investigations in addition to one ordered at the federal level.

The Monroe, Louisiana-based telecommunications giant saw voice, internet protocol and transport services affected in primarily Western states beginning shortly after 8 a.m. on Dec. 27. A faulty network management card in Denver from a third-party equipment vendor caused invalid traffic replication and also limited visibility into CenturyLink’s network management system, limiting its ability to troubleshoot the problem and prolonging the incident until just past 9 p.m. on Dec. 28, according to spokeswoman Linda Johnson.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai called the outages “completely unacceptable” and directed the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau to investigate the cause and impact, including on other providers, like Verizon, using CenturyLink infrastructure.

Both the Washington Utility and Transportation Commission and Wyoming Public Service Commission announced similar investigations.

“The commission’s investigation will determine whether CenturyLink violated any law and rules,” WUTC spokeswoman Kate Griffith told Route Fifty. “Investigation staff will likely take into consideration the following factors: the seriousness of the violation, how widespread the issues were, whether prompt corrective action was taken, and the likelihood of recurrence.”

Dec. 27, 2018 outage map (CenturyLink)

Investigations generally take several months for a full report to be submitted to the commission so members can determine penalties or corrective actions as needed, Griffith added.

The CenturyLink spokeswoman said the company is taking steps to prevent another outage, such as establishing a network monitoring plan

“We are in contact with the FCC and policymakers and will cooperate fully with any investigation,” Johnson said in an emailed response.

The Washington Emergency Management Division used its cellphone alert system statewide for the first time around 11:30 p.m. on Dec. 27 to send a message about the problem: “Widespread 911 outage in WA. In case of emergency, call local police or fire department.”

“We just looked at it as being the final thing to do to cover all the bases,” Robert Ezelle, EMD director, told The Seattle Times. “[T]here’s probably some people not appreciative of being woken up in the middle of the night.”

Both the Idaho Department of Correction and State Department of Education were unable to receive phone calls. This also affected the JPay system state inmates use to exchange money and communicate with people on the outside.

Utah’s court system faced sporadic outages, while the Salt Lake Valley Emergency Communications Center switched providers to restore services.

State agencies in Arizona, Idaho, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, and Oregon were also among those that reported outages, while Verizon outages were reported in Montana and New Mexico.