AT&T's 911 outage 'result of mistakes made by AT&T,' FCC's Pai says

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai directed the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau to investigate the 911 outage on AT&T's network in March.

The FCC said AT&T itself was to blame for an outage of its VoLTE 911 network in March. But the agency said the problems that caused the outage have been addressed.

AT&T users who tried to call 911 emergency dispatchers late on March 8 were unable to get through for a time, instead hearing fast-busy signals, endless ringing or nothing at all, the FCC said. The Denver Police Department and some other first responders took to social media to urge AT&T customers to reach them via text if necessary, and the carrier said service was restored after roughly one hour.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai directed the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau to investigate, and the FCC issued a statement on that report during this morning’s monthly meeting.

“The findings are highly instructive,” Pai said in a prepared statement. “Most importantly, this outage could have been prevented. It was the result of mistakes made by AT&T. The Bureau’s report shows that there were shortfalls in operational redundancies, risk assessment, and stakeholder and consumer outreach. Had AT&T followed certain best practices outlined by the FCC’s Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council, this outage would have had much less impact. Indeed, the cause of the outage could and should have been identified with periodic audits of the network.”

Pai said AT&T has addressed the vulnerabilities that led to the outage, however, and he urged the wireless industry and other groups to work with the government to examine ways to improve notifications to public safety agencies and consumers when 911 outages occur.

"We’ve done an extensive evaluation of this outage and concluded it was caused by a system configuration change affecting connectivity between a 911 vendor and our network,” an AT&T spokesman told FierceWireless via email. “We’ve taken steps to prevent this from happening again."