What does the FCC consider an outage? Where does the money from fines go?

By Mark Fletcher posted 07-18-2015 14:46


What Happened?

This past week T-Mobile was slammed with a record $17.5 million fine by the Federal Communications Commission. The fine was related to 2 specific 911 outages, occurring last summer, affecting customers for at least three hours. 

This past year the FCC has flexed its enforcement muscle with carriers pertaining to 911 service outages, including a previous record fine of $16 million to CenturyLink, $1.4 Million to Intrado, and $3.4 Million to Verizon in connection with a multi-state outage in April 2014 where a database error in a Colorado datacenter hosted by Intrado prevented calls from properly routing to 911 centers.

With nearly $40 million being collected, the common question being asked by many is, “What actually defines an outage, and exactly where does all of this money go after it's been collected?"

Follow the Money

Where the money goes, is easily answered, as Title 47 CFR specifically addresses the issue. The Code of Federal Regulations (Title 47 §32.7300) [https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/47/32.7300] mandates that all collected penalties and fines paid on account for FCC violations of statutes will be deposited in an Other Income and Expense account. This is the same account that money from the sale of land or a building would go, and is part of the general operating income and expense of the FCC.

 So while there would be a financial impact on the overall profit and loss statement, monies collected for a specific violation are not applied to specific remediation activities for any particular violation, at least not directly. Those would all be budget line items previously decided and allocated.

What's considered an outage?

Title 47 also defines what constitutes an outage under §4.5. [https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/47/4.5] Specifically, for 911 facilities, an outage is considered to exist whenever one of the following conditions exists:

  1. There is a loss of communications to PSAP(s) potentially affecting at least 900,000 user-minutes and: The failure is neither at the PSAP(s) nor on the premises of the PSAP(s); no reroute for all end users was available; and the outage lasts 30 minutes or more; OR
  2. There is a loss of 911 call processing capabilities in one or more E-911 tandems/selective routers for at least 30 minutes duration; OR
  3. One or more [landline] end-office or [cellular] Mobile Switching Center (MSC) switches or host/remote clusters is isolated from 911 service for at least 30 minutes and potentially affects at least 900,000 user-minutes; OR
  4. There is a loss of ANI/ALI (associated name and location information) and/or a failure of location determination equipment, including Phase II equipment, for at least 30 minutes and potentially affecting at least 900,000 user-minutes (provided that the ANI/ALI or location determination equipment was then currently deployed and in use, and the failure is neither at the PSAP(s) or on the premises of the PSAP(s)). 
It Depends . . .  - Martha Buyer, Atty.

What I have come to learn over the past several years, is to pay attention to not only the legislative text of a regulation or law, but more importantly, the definitions and assumptions that the law makes. These areas are where the real ingredients to the recipe lie, and where legal consultation can be invaluable.

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