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FCC Fines Sprint, Others $1.4M For IP 911 Failures

The FCC has fined Sprint, InnoCaption and Hamilton Relay a total of $1.4 million for failing to properly relay Internet-delivered phone calls to the hard of hearing.

The companies settled with the FCC, admitting they had violated FCC rules and promising to put in place procedures to prevent a repeat of the conduct.

According to the FCC, its investigation of the companies found that for a period of up to 10 months in some cases they were unable to handle 911 calls via applications that allowed them to be compensated from a federal fund for processing the calls and were unaware of the issue until the FCC investigation revealed it.

Companies that provide Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service (IP CTS) can apply for the subsidy, which they did. "[t]he companies submitted inaccurate requests to the TRS Fund administrator for compensation provided to users of IP CTS applications during the period the companies were not in compliance with the emergency call handling rules," the FCC Enforcement Bureau said.

“All Americans must be able to reach 911 in an emergency,” said Enforcement Bureau chief Travis LeBlanc. "Today's settlements reaffirm our commitment to ensure that the hard of hearing community has essential 911 service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Not only are we fining these companies for failing to provide this vital services, but we are assuring that they provide it going forward.”

They were the first such fines, but may not be the last. The bureau published a link and phone number for anyone else who is using a telephone relay service (TRS) and having trouble making emergency calls.

"Sprint was alerted by the FCC and quickly determined that a coding error by Sprint’s vendor led to the application disconnecting 911 calls," said Sprint spokesperson Marci VerBrugge-Rhind. "During a vendor’s routine maintenance procedure, there was an error which resulted in the resetting of the communications path for 911 calls. As a result, 911 calls were not placed in a high-priority queue ahead of non-emergency calls and the calls errored-out and were disconnected. As soon as Sprint became aware of this issue, we immediately worked with our vendor and were able to resolve this matter within 24 hours. Thankfully NO customer calls were impacted. Sprint has upgraded testing protocols to prevent this type of issue in the future."

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.