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Washington fines CenturyLink for 911 outage

An Emergency Alert System message received on a smartphone (December 28, 2018).

(The Center Square)Washington officials fined CenturyLink more than $1.3 million for a two-day, statewide 911 outage.

The Utilities and Transportation Commission fined the company Monday for a statewide 911 outage that began Dec. 27, 2018, and lasted 50 hours, according to a news release. CenturyLink, the state’s then-911 provider, failed to complete more than 13,000 calls.

“The penalty reflects the serious and potentially life-threatening impact an outage has on ensuring that vital life-saving services are available,” the news release reads.

CenturyLink, Washington’s largest phone company, is no longer its 911 provider. Comtech has taken its place, according to Amanda McCarthy, UTC’s assistant director of media relations. 

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The statewide outage started at 12:40 a.m. on Dec. 27, and lasted until 8:36 p.m. on Dec. 28, according to the UTC order. Some outages continued until all services returned at 9:01 p.m. on Dec. 29.

“Residents attempting to call 911 encountered a fast busy signal and experienced dropped calls,” the order reads.

Linda Johnson, with corporate communications for CenturyLink’s parent company Lumen, said the company fully cooperated with the investigation.

“These issues are always concerning and are our immediate priority,” she said. “We know that when someone calls 911, seconds count and we take that responsibility seriously.”

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State Attorney General Bob Ferguson asked the UTC in December 2021 to fine CenturyLink the maximum amount allowed for the outage. He said the company did not notify its call centers about the problem.

“Imagine being in a car accident or having a medical emergency and not being able to reach 911,” Ferguson then said in a news release. “This is not the first time CenturyLink has failed to provide reliable 911 services.”

CenturyLink previously paid a $2.8 million fine for an April 2014 outage that disrupted 911 service across the state for six hours. 

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