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FCC Extends Outage Reporting to Broadband, Voice Over Internet

The agency issued a “report and order” earlier this month in an effort to take broader action

Because voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) service outages have included 9-1-1 emergency service, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) extends its outage reporting requirements to both interconnected VoIP services and broadband Internet services.

On Feb. 21, 2012, the FCC issued a “report and order”—The Proposed Extension of the Commission’s Rules Regarding Outage Reporting To Interconnected Voice Over Internet Protocol Service Providers and Broadband Internet Service Providers (PS Docket No. 11-82)—in which the commission says it is taking “much broader action” on the issue.

The FCC says it has “proposed to require reporting of both outages based on the complete loss of service and those where, while service is technically available, technical conditions (such as packet loss, latency and/or jitter) effectively prevent communication.”

However, the commission says it is “prepared at this time to adopt reporting requirements only with respect to the complete loss of interconnected VoIP service,” and it “defers action on possible performance degradation thresholds for measuring an outage of interconnected VoIP service and on all outages of broadband Internet service.”

Collecting data on the complete loss of interconnected VoIP service will help the FCC ensure “the nation’s 9-1-1 systems are as reliable and resilient as possible and also allow us to monitor compliance with the statutory 9-1-1 obligations of interconnected VoIP service providers,” the commission said.

The FCC says it has “cause to be concerned about the ability of interconnected VoIP subscribers to reach emergency services when they need them” because of several recent, significant VoIP outages listed in the report and order. When those outages occurred and what happened are:

On May 25, 2010, a service outage involving the AT&T U-Verse platform involved a server failure that impacted U-Verse interconnected VoIP service in AT&T’s entire 22-state local phone service area serving approximately 1.15 million customers.The outage lasted for several hours, and it remains unclear how many subscribers were unable to reach 9-1-1 and for how long.

On March 22, 2011, a Comcast outage in 19 New Hampshire communities beginning around 3:30 p.m. left many Comcast customers in those communities unable to make any calls, including 9-1-1 calls.The problem lasted through the evening.

In June 2010, CenturyLink Internet experienced failures that affected approximately 30,000 customers on the Kitsap Peninsula (near Seattle), and in a separate outage affected approximately 100,000 customers across parts of Texas. The Kitsap Peninsula outage lasted an hour according to company sources, but some customers said it lasted four times as long. The Texas outage lasted over eight hours.During the outages, consumers, businesses and government were unable to place 9-1-1 or other calls over VoIP.

In March 2010, Comcast Internet and Digital Voice service was disrupted to customers in Nashville, Tenn., and Atlanta. Comcast customers experienced severely degraded service for at least two hours. During the outage, local, state and federal government department and agency customers of Comcast in the affected areas were unable to make or receive telephone calls. Residential and business subscribers to Comcast Internet and Digital Voice services also were affected by the outage significantly impairing their ability to engage in 9-1-1 and other communications.