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Officials look to hold phone service providers accountable for 911 outages

911 emergency (Pixabay,  License Link )
911 emergency (Pixabay, License Link )(KWQC)
Published: Dec. 27, 2019 at 4:04 PM CST
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What if you tried to call 911 but couldn't get through? It's happening more often than you may realize in Nebraska. It's a problem that could prove costly if measures to correct outages are not taken.

Nebraska Public Service Commissioner Crystal Rhoades says telephone service providers in Nebraska need to be held accountable. She says outages have become too routine and the commission needs to investigate why.

“The reason they need to be regulated is because they are required to provide 911 services,” said Rhoades.

Documents Rhoades provided Six News show several incidents where the 911 service was down in some areas for several hours. Century Link leads way with 41 outages this year.

Rhoades says the service provider claims contractors cutting lines and a lack of money as reasons for outages.

“That doesn't hold up under scrutiny...they have received hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds since 1999 to build and maintain their network and they consistently continue to have more failures than all the other carriers combined,” said Rhoades.

Rhoades says money can't be to blame, saying 24 million dollars in fees collected from cell and landline users sit there unused.

“There has been a real reluctance on the part of the company to voluntarily correct the issues even though they are funded to do so and there's been an unwillingness on the part of the commission to take any kind of an enforcement action against them,” said Rhoades.

In a statement, Commissioner Tim Schram says he agrees that something needs to change, but that a plan needs to include several other agencies including the attorney general's office.

Rhoades says the commission already has jurisdiction over phone providers in the state and it's time for action.

“What steps does the commission need to take, what steps does the carrier need to take, what steps does the call center need to take to make sure that we are doing everything possible to maintain the most robust 911 system we can. That’s all I'm looking for,” said Rhoades.

We have not heard back from CenturyLink about the concerns. Commissioner Rhoades says some areas of rural Nebraska can go for days without reliable telephone service.

Collectively, 37 other providers have experienced 33 outages this year. She intended to keep working for a solution.