Outages To Know About

By Caron Carlson  |  Posted 2004-10-04 Print this article Print

For example, in January, Verizon Communications Inc. experienced an outage in Virginia that lasted 2 hours and 41 minutes when water leaked from the plumbing in a third-floor bathroom onto a first-floor switch. In September 2003, Qwest Communications International Inc. service was out for 4 hours and 38 minutes after vandals cut fiber-optic cables in Bellingham, Wash.

As recently as last summer, the FCC championed the marketplace benefits of making outage data available to the public. In a July 2003 letter to Comcast Phone of Massachusetts Inc., the FCC denied the carriers request to keep an outage report confidential, stating the long-standing policy that "the public is entitled to full and forthcoming explanations" for outages because they "have been of enormous public concern, in part because they have such a widespread public impact."

This summers about-face by the FCC was driven by changed circumstances, according to the commissions Report and Order, released in August. First, the competitive landscape changed, and disclosing outage data now could cause competitive harm to carriers and to equipment manufacturers. Second, the post-9/11 fear of terrorism heightened the critical nature of the networks, in the governments view.

Voting for the order, FCC Chairman Michael Powell said the commission "recognizes that much of the information provided in these reports will contain sensitive homeland security information. In order to prevent this information from falling into hostile hands, the Commission has created appropriate protections for this data."

The order states that the "national defense and public safety goals that we seek to achieve by requiring these outage reports would be seriously undermined if we were to permit these reports to fall into the hands of terrorists who seek to cripple the nations communications infrastructure."

Critics of the new rules, however, complain that the FCCs decision lacks specific justification for granting the carriers something they had long desired. Well before the commission began considering a reversal of policy in February of this year—and even before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001—it was pressing for more information from carriers, which simultaneously lobbied to restrict the information. Until August, the FCC remained steadfastly committed to open records.

"Why was [disclosure of] a leaky pipe in the public interest a year ago, and now its an Osama bin Laden issue?" Moir asked, questioning the stated reasons for the policy change. "This was clearly a political decision driven at the [commissioners level]. This was just a quid pro quo side deal with carriers."

Officials in the FCCs Office of Engineering and Technology—which handled the proceeding—maintain that changed circumstances alone guided the new rules, which apply only to new outage reports. But outside OET, agency employees acknowledged that the commission, pressed by the Department of Homeland Security, was eager to begin collecting more data from carriers.

"They wanted to get this information, and the industry was raising a big stink about giving it to them," said an agency employee who asked not to be named. "They wanted to get this thing going as soon as possible and liberalize later."

Next Page: How far is too far?


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