FCC fines Alaska telecom $2.4M for 911 outages

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General Communication Inc., a major telecom company in Alaska, said it would shell out $2.4 million as a result of an inquiry into five 911 service outages on its wireless network, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

As part of the settlement with the FCC, the company will develop a plan to identify and protect against service disruption risks, and respond to and recover from future outages. GCI also must file annual compliance reports with the FCC. 

The outages in the investigation occurred between 2008 and 2016, and four took place in remote areas of the state. Travis LeBlanc, chief of the commission’s Enforcement Bureau, wrote in a notice announcing the agreement last week that the FCC’s 911 service requirements are meant to “ensure that reliable 911 service is available to all Americans at all times.”

“Without access to functional, reliable 911 service, consumers are at risk of being unable to complete one of the most important calls they may ever to make — a call to a first responder in a time of critical need,” he wrote. 

Ensuring that their customers can reach emergency services should be a priority for telecom companies, said Evelyn Bailey, executive director of the National Association of State 911 Administrators. She applauded the move to require GCI to file compliance reports, saying it would help the company find ways to prevent future outages. 

“That accountability and the need to ensure the reliability of their services … will become more a part of their culture and their thinking and ultimately inform their engineering practices,” Bailey said.

She also noted that last year the FCC released new regulations for telecommunications companies that established increased protections for 911 service. 

GCI covers 95 percent of Alaska’s residents, primarily in rural areas, according to the company. And even though GCI is a small company, it still must provide infrastructure to support residents, Bailey said.

“The large ones are good, they take that responsibility seriously. When they have failed … they’ve taken their lumps,” Bailey said. “The small carriers need to do the same thing, just because they’re little, doesn’t excuse them.”

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Emergency Management, Public Safety, State & Local News
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