AT&T Slapped with $5.25M Fine for 911 Emergency Service Outages

Following a government probe into the U.S. telecom-giant’s handling of multiple 911 service outages, AT&T on Thursday announced in a joint statement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that it will pay a $5.25 million fine, while promising to improve its internal practices to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.

A statement from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), according to Reuters, noted that AT&T’s wireless network experienced two 911 service outages in 2017 as the result of ongoing VoLTE network modifications which inadvertently affected the carrier’s emergency call routing.

One outage that occurred in March 2017, which allegedly lasted five-hours, was said to have resulted in as many as 12,600 distress calls being dropped — while a second reported outage in May 2017, which lasted just 47 minutes, resulted in an additional 2,600 dropped calls, the publication noted.

In its statement, the FCC concluded that AT&T failed to “quickly, clearly, and fully” notify national 911 call centers of its March 2017 network outage, which is in violation of Federal regulations mandating that cellular providers not only transmit all 911 calls, but also inform call centers when a network outage lasts in excess of 30 minutes. 

“Such preventable outages are unacceptable,” the FCC said in its statement, adding that “Robust and reliable 911 service is a national priority, as repeatedly expressed by both Congress and the Commission.”

In addition to the $5.25 million fine, AT&T is required to implement new protocols that will reduce the likelihood and impact of similar 911 service outages moving forward, as well as make modifications to improve its internal procedures for notifying 911 call centers of planned or unplanned outages, work to improve emergency call completion, and file routine “compliance reports” with the FCC.

“Providing access to emergency 911 services is critically important, and to that end we cooperated with the FCC in their review,” AT&T said in its own statement. “These events resulted from planned network changes that inadvertently interfered with the routing of 911 calls. We’ve taken steps to prevent this from happening again.”

Having generated revenue of $190 billion last year, the $5.25 million levied against AT&T isn’t much more than a slap on the wrist, really.. But that the Federal government is requiring the telecom-giant to implement new measures to ensure more expedient reporting and, ideally, prevention of future 911 outages, is embarrassing enough. 

News of the probe into AT&T’s handling of these 911 service outages comes just days after it was determined that the telecom-giant — now the owner of Cable TV provider, Time Warner — may be trying to pass that $84.5 billion expense onto its customers in the form of unnecessarily hefty monthly “administrative fees.”

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