The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission today released its investigative report on CenturyLink’s November 2013 voice and data outage in the San Juan Islands. In the report, state regulatory staff recommend the commission order more than $170,000 in penalties against the company.
A penalty would be in addition to credits, totaling $271,000, that the company credited in February to the accounts of customers affected by the outage. The company has also committed more than $500,000 for system improvements to ensure back-up service in the event of a future outage.
UTC staff initiated the investigation to look into the cause of the outage, the company’s emergency preparedness and response, restoration efforts, and communication with the public.
The investigation found that the 10-day service outage resulted from a severed underwater fiber cable that separated the Friday Harbor switch from the CenturyLink network. The investigation also concludes that the company violated state laws and rules related to major outages, as well as requirements for communicating outage information to the public.
“I’m very pleased with the strength of the UTC staff’s recommendations to what was a serious 10-day crisis on the San Juan Islands last November,” said Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island. “Not only were the islands cut off from the rest of the world, first responders reported two significant medical incidents during the outage in which two elderly residents tried unsuccessfully to call for help. UTC staff found serious deficiencies both in CenturyLink’s response and their communication with the public. Hopefully today’s ruling will help ensure that stronger protections are created to prevent this from happening again. I’d also like to give credit to CenturyLink which did step up to credit customers impacted by the outage. Those were a trying 10 days for so many people last November. My hope is that today’s recommendation will help make sure this never happens again.”
On Dec. 9, 2013, the commission held a public hearing in Friday Harbor to hear from local customers and government agencies impacted by the outage. Attendees expressed dissatisfaction with CenturyLink’s infrastructure, equipment and service; communication during and immediately following the outage; and the service restoration timeframe.
In the investigation report, UTC staff recommend the commission issue a formal complaint against the company with a penalty of up to $173,210 for 15,935 violations of commission laws and rules.
Commission staff also recommended that CenturyLink be required to make improvements to the infrastructure serving the San Juan Islands, and report annually to the commission on the status and results of maintenance and inspections of the system. The company has committed to make infrastructure improvements by early 2015.
The UTC regulates the rates and services of telecommunications companies, investor-owned electric utilities, natural gas and water companies, garbage-collection haulers, household-goods movers and charter-bus companies, commercial ferries, pipeline companies, and a low-level radioactive waste repository. The commission does not regulate broadband or Internet services, including those provided by regulated telecommunications companies.