On June 28, 2018, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau announced a Consent Decree with AT&T Mobility, LLC (“AT&T”) to resolve investigations into two 911 service outages in 2017. The outages lasted for more than five hours and resulted in approximately 15,000 failed calls. The settlement was somewhat unexpected because more than a year had passed since the FCC issued its report on the outages, which did not indicate that enforcement action was coming. The penalty levied against AT&T underscores that improving the nation’s 911 capabilities continues to be a top priority for the FCC and that outages will be met with significant fines.

In addition to paying the penalty, AT&T agreed to a number of other conditions aimed at preventing future “sunny day” outages not caused by weather, but rather human error. In particular, AT&T agreed to “develop and implement processes” designed to: “(1) Identify risks that could result in disruptions to 911 service; (2) Protect against such risks; (3) Detect 911 outages; (4) Respond to such outages with remedial actions, including notification to affected PSAPs; and (5) Recover from such outages as soon as practicable.” These compliance processes mirror the obligations imposed on T-Mobile in 2015 following similar “sunny day” outages. But AT&T also agreed to an unusual provision requiring it to develop and submit to the FCC a “roadmap” with specific objectives and timelines for implementation. Thus, it appears that the FCC will exercise continued oversight to make sure AT&T is meeting its compliance benchmarks. In addition, AT&T will need to conduct periodic audits of its network systems and make sure it has approval at the Vice President level for “all network upgrades that could potentially affect critical 911 network assets.” These additional conditions are designed to push major carriers into adopting “best practices” that reduce the likelihood of service outages caused by network updates and other non-weather-related events.

The settlement makes clear that the FCC remains committed to enforcing its 911 rules, and that any interference with access to emergency services almost certainly will result in an enforcement action, including a significant monetary penalty. Consequently, carriers of all sizes should ensure they have safeguards and other best practices in place to avoid accidental 911 outages.