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Telecommunication Company Under Fire For 911 Blackout

Mar 21, 2018

Emergency 911 lines were knocked out in seven counties last month in the Tampa Bay area for several hours. On Wednesday, telecommunication company Frontier Communications and one of its contractors addressed the reasons for the crippling of emergency phone lines.

The problem arose after contractor CenturyLink removed both the main and backup communication cables for a road widening project. The work involved moving cables for an overnight road project near Clewiston.

Dave Frezza, the senior vice president of network operations for Frontier, appeared before Hillsborough County commissioners to respond to the outage.

He said there was a communication breakdown between the two companies, and also explained steps the company is taking to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

Commissioner Victor Crist demanded those changes be committed to writing.

“I would like to see something in writing that is guaranteed to my voter's, my constituents and this board. Can I be clearer than that?”

Commissioner Stacy White echoed those comments.

“You have to give us peace of mind,” White said. “We have to be able to tell the citizens of Hillsborough County with a straight face that we and Frontier have everything in place to reduce the likelihood that our 911 systems aren’t going to be knocked down.”

Frezza said, "We deeply regret that the event that the events of January 31st impacted the emergency services.”

Frezza believes Frontier has taken measures so it doesn't happen again.

Multiple failures in Frontier’s signal network paths, which are essential for voice communications, are what caused challenges on Jan. 31, he said.

Several temporary outages crippled emergency phone lines throughout Central Florida for hours at a time. Emergency calls went unanswered in seven counties, including Pinellas Hillsborough, Sarasota, Manatee and Polk Counties, as well as a number of cities and unincorporated areas.

One of the outages lasted a little over an hour, suspending 911 service completely in Hillsborough and in parts of Pinellas County.

Hillsborough County commissioners told staff attorneys in February to investigate whether the board can take legal action against Frontier Communications for knocking out the county’s emergency phone service.

“I assure you that had CenturyLink alerted us to the intent to work on both the primary and secondary paths simultaneously, we would have taken action to prevent such actions,” Frezza said. “Frontier recognizes that regardless of these circumstances, we are ultimately responsible for the quality and resiliency of the services we provide. "

Frontier established a new network path and telecommunication lines will now be marked, Frezza said. Better communication between CenturyLink and Frontier will also be established.

Before the outage, Frezza said, most communication for maintenance work was via email. Now his company will do it over the phone.