Alaska Firm to Pay Feds $2.4M for 911 Outages

     ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CN) — Alaska telecommunications provider GCI will pay a $2.4 million fine to the Federal Communications Commission to settle an investigation over five 911 phone-service outages in the state since 2008.
     An FCC Enforcement Bureau investigation found that the five separate service interruptions prevented significant numbers of the company’s wireless customers from reaching first responders when dialing 911. The agency and company signed a consent decree on Wednesday assessing the fine and ending the investigation.
     General Communication Inc., or GCI, admits the outages from August 2008 to April 2016 “violated 911 service reliability and outage notification and reporting rules,” according to the decree.
     In one such incident in 2015, more than 1,000 calls could not reach the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s emergency response system during a multiday outage on the GCI system, borough officials told Alaska Dispatch News.
     A borough official also reported to the Dispatch that GCI was unaware of the problem until they alerted the company after first responders learned of the cellphone connection issues while responding to an emergency.
     Nenana, in Interior Alaska, and Bethel and Hooper Bay, in the western part of the state, were also affected during the six-year period.
     According to the decree, the civil penalty takes “into consideration the fact that four of the five outages took place in remote locations in Alaska,” where operational challenges can exist that don’t occur in larger places like Fairbanks.
     “Americans should be able to reach 911 at any time, whether they live in New York City or a village in Alaska,” FCC Enforcement Bureau chief Travis LeBlanc said in a statement. “We will continue to work with service providers across the nation to ensure they meet this critical expectation to protect the public’s safety.”
     The investigation determined that all outages would likely have been minimized, or avoided altogether, if GCI had implemented appropriate safeguards in its 911 network architecture and operational procedures, an FCC statement said.
     According to the statement, GCI also neglected to provide timely notification of three of the five outages to the affected 911 call centers and did not submit timely Network Outage Reporting System reports to the FCC in four of the five outages.
     The settlement agreement states that GCI will appoint a compliance officer and provide employees with compliance manuals to ensure terms of the agreement are followed. The telecomm company will also provide the FCC with annual reports on its compliance for the next three years.
     In addition, GCI agreed to maintain up-to-date contact information for 911 call centers, adopt a plan to notify 911 call centers during outages, and maintain contact with the Alaska 911 Coordinator’s Office when necessary.
     GCI was founded in 1979. It is the largest Alaska-based telecommunications provider, with $979 million in revenues for 2015. Wednesday’s settlement with GCI is the fifth major enforcement action involving 911 outages that the FCC has taken in the last 15 months.
     In July 2015, the FCC entered into a $17.5 million settlement with T-Mobile in connection with two nationwide 911 outages. In April 2015, the FCC reached a $16 million deal with CenturyLink and a $1.4 million settlement with Intrado Communications, in connection with an April 2014 multi-state 911 outage that lasted for over six hours.
     In March 2015, the FCC settled with Verizon for $3.4 million in connection with the same April 2014 outage.

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