T-Mobile to Pay U.S. $17.5 Million After Mobile 911 Outages

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T-Mobile US Inc. will pay a $17.5 million fine after two 911 outages last year kept wireless customers from being able to reach emergency responders, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC and T-Mobile settled the case following two separate but related outages in August 2014 that investigators said could have been avoided had the company “implemented appropriate safeguards,” according to a statement Friday.

Both outages were nationwide, preventing almost all of T-Mobile’s then 50 million customers from reaching 911 operators for almost three hours if they needed help. T-Mobile failed to alert 911 call centers affected by the outages in a timely manner, the investigation found.

“The commission has no higher priority than ensuring the reliability and resilience of our nation’s communications networks so that consumers can reach public safety in their time of need,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in the statement. “Communications providers that do not take necessary steps to ensure that Americans can call 911 will be held to account.”

The fine is the largest against a company for a 911 disruption, and is the fourth such FCC case this year, according to the statement. An April 2014 multi-state outage led to settlements of $16 million with CenturyLink Inc., $1.4 million with Intrado Communications and $3.4 million with Verizon Communications Inc. The April 2014 outage lasted more than six hours.

In addition to paying the fine, T-Mobile must identify potential risks that could lead to future 911 outages and agree to alert affected call centers if a future outage occurs.

“We have made significant changes and improvements across a number of our systems since last year, and we will continue working to improve these critical systems with our partners to provide the standard of service our customers rightly expect from T-Mobile,” the company said in an e-mailed statement.