This week the FCC took enforcement action against a local exchange carrier operating in Oklahoma for failing to route 911 calls to public safety authorities. In what appears to be the first Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL) issued to a telecommunications carrier for failing to provide 911 service, the FCC took an aggressive position and proposed a $100,000 forfeiture against the carrier. The FCC selected a fine on the higher side of the statutory range due to the gravity of the situation and the carrier’s repeated failure to provide 911 service in compliance with the Commission’s rules.
According to the NAL, the carrier is a small rural local exchange carrier in Oklahoma. The county had not yet established a public safety answering point (PSAP) and the carrier routed calls to an AT&T operator in Oklahoma City instead. The FCC found that the carrier was routing its 911 calls to an AT&T automated operator service which directed the 911 caller to “hang up and dial 911”, an action that undermined the customer’s trust in the carrier and was “manifestly unreasonable.” Over the course of the FCC’s investigation, the carrier conceded it had learned the live operator had been replaced by an automated system, but continued to route 911 calls to the system for an additional three months before the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB) got involved.
The situation in the NAL appears to be unusual and was limited to a small number of subscribers. Nevertheless, in a statement released with the NAL, Acting Chief of the Enforcement Bureau, Travis LeBlanc, stressed that 911 is fundamental to the U.S. communications system, “A cry for help to 911 must be answered in large cities and in small rural towns alike. Anything less is unacceptable.”
The carrier will have 30 days to respond to the NAL.
This action is a part of the FCC’s recent activity to increase focus on the reliability and effectiveness of the nation’s 911 networks. Recently, FCC officials have been speaking publicly about the need for the communications industry to focus on improving their 911 capabilities, particularly Next Generation 911. Chairman Wheeler issued a blog post stating that it is the FCC’s responsibility to ensure consumers can rely on 911 networks and reassuring the public that “no company will be allowed to hang up on 911.” Admiral Simpson, Chief of the PSHSB, also weighed in on the need to preserve 911 accountability in his remarks to at the NARUC 2014 summer meeting stressing that with the new technology and innovation in the market today providers must work to ensure their networks remain reliable and resilient.
The Commission will also consider another development in 911 capabilities at the upcoming August 8th Open Meeting. The Commissioners are expected to vote on adopting a report and order that would require all wireless carriers and interconnected, over-the-top (OTT) texting providers by year-end to be capable of deploying text-to-911 services. Providers would be required to provide text-to-911 services within six months of receiving a request from a public safety answering point (PSAP). Additionally, the report and order is paired with a third further notice of proposed rulemaking seeking comments and proposals on ways to improve text-to-911 services.
Clearly, this Commission has made 911 a high priority. We would not be surprised to see more 911-related actions in the near future.