FCC, Maryland Probing Verizon 911 Outages

On January 26th, a snowstorm hit the Washington DC area. For many of us in the area, the commute home was quite a nightmare. But for Verizon, the impact was even more disturbing. Verizon suffered outages in its ability to process wireless 911 calls in two Maryland counties adjacent to Washington, DC.

This week, both the FCC and the Maryland Public Service Commission began investigations into Verizon’s 911 outages. Time will tell if the 911 outages will lead to any enforcement action against Verizon, but the FCC previously warned providers to take action to minimize the risk of disruptions to their 911 service.

See below for more detail on the FCC and Maryland PSC investigations.

FCC Investigation. On February 17, the Chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau issued a letter to Verizon requesting that Verizon provide an explanation of the causes of this and similar failures, provide Verizon’s assessment of the possibility of occurrence in other locations and describe what actions Verizon is taking to prevent recurrence of these problems.”

Notably, the Bureau is not limiting its investigation to this specific outage. Instead, the Bureau letter stated:

We are particularly concerned that this problem may be widespread
across Verizon’s footprint. We therefore request that Verizon investigate the extent of the problem across its network and provide [responses to the Bureau’s specific questions]

The Bureau Chief requested an in-person meeting within the next two weeks” to discuss the matter.

Two things are particularly interesting about this letter. First, the letter was issued by the Public Safety Bureau, rather than the Enforcement Bureau. To me, this indicates that the Bureau will press Verizon for remedial actions. While fines are not out of the question, it appears that the FCC’s number one priority is to oversee Verizon’s plans to improve its 911 reliability first. Second, the letter is sent on letterhead from the Office of the Chairman.” Most likely, this letter got significant attention from Chairman Genachowski’s office, and it quite possibly was at one time planned to be sent from the Chairman himself.

Follow this link for the FCC letter to Verizon.

Maryland PSC investigation. Maryland’s investigation appears to have been prompted by a request from Prince George’s County, MD, one of the two counties that experienced 911 outages. The County had requested information from Verizon, which responded on February 16. The next day, the Maryland PSC sent its letter to Verizon. In the letter, the PSC acknowledged the County’s letter and stated:

This is not the first time that the Commission has received reports of outages on the Verizon 9-1-1 network. ... The Commission, therefore, directs Verizon to appear before the Commission at its March 2, 2011 Administrative meeting with the representatives needed to explain to the Commission the issues that have caused the outages and the steps that Verizon has taken to correct/repair the network, including additional equipment/lines that have been installed and any other measures required to ensure that there is not a repeat of these outages.

Follow this link for the Maryland PSC letter to Verizon.

REMINDER: Maryland PSC documents, and documents from other state commission sites, can be found in the Resource Center.