The Federal Communications Commission definitely must investigate CenturyLink’s massive Internet system failure that lasted from early Thursday, Dec. 27, through early Friday, Dec. 28. It was an unmitigated disaster! The FCC also needs to publicize the outage’s cause, which CenturyLink seems loathe to divulge.
This not only was a public relations fiasco for CenturyLink, it can be argued the blackout of its service jeopardized lives and could have been a threat to national security.
Customers like those of us in Idaho were blindsided by the widespread outage, not knowing for nearly 24 hours what happened or when service would be restored. Everyone from law enforcement to medical centers to thousands of individual customers were adversely impacted in dozens of states.
What was especially disturbing about the nationwide outage was the fact 911 systems in many states were completely disabled, leaving countless people in the lurch as they tried to helplessly cope with emergencies on their own.
This debacle was not unprecedented. The Seattle Times reported in 2014 that a six-hour CenturyLink outage led to more than 5,800 failed 911 calls, crippling Washington state’s 911 system. The FCC fined CenturyLink $16 million over that failure, and state regulators added another $2 million.
At that time, a woman tried calling 911 37 times after a burglar broke into her home. In another case, a domestic violence victim had to flag down police because she could not reach law enforcement via phone calls, the Times noted.
Those calling CenturyLink’s help number in the latest snafu also could not reach any assistance, were put on hold for interminable hours or rudely disconnected. The news media’s pathetic coverage of the major event did not help ease anxieties, either. Was this a cyberattack or an infrastructure collapse? Who knew?
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai expressed grave concerns. He said: “When an emergency strikes, it is critical that Americans are able to use 911 to reach those who can help. CenturyLink service outage is therefore completely unacceptable, and its breadth and duration are particularly troubling.” Pai added, “I’ve directed the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau to immediately launch an investigation into the cause and impact of this outage.”
In one of its few sporadic tweets, CenturyLink stated: “We are aware of some 911 service disruptions affecting various areas through the United States. In case of an emergency, customers should use their wireless phones to call 911 or drive to the nearest fire station or emergency facility. Technicians are working to restore services.”
At about 4:30 a.m. Friday, Dec. 28, CenturyLink tweeted its teams had “discovered some additional technical problems as our service restoration efforts were under way.” This came after another statement issued about seven hours earlier said the company estimated service would be restored within four hours.
“CenturyLink engineers have identified a network element that was impacting customer services and are addressing the issue to fully restore services,” the company said. Its tweets, however, did little to comfort blacked-out customers who had no Internet access.
All of this underscores society’s frightening over dependence on wireless or electronic services – and our vulnerability to such frustrating disruptions. One thing we can be certain: CenturyLink will not be forthcoming in offering reduced payments on our utility bills in the near future for the annoying inconvenience. Don’t hold your breath!