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CenturyLink management needs to offer an explanation

I would like to thank the Albuquerque Journal editorial staff for their piece on “Telecom Giants need to answer this wake-up call” on Jan. 7. Unfortunately, all you hear is crickets from CenturyLink, the N.M. Public Regulation Commission and our elected officials. I have read no official statement about the number of customers involved, nor the reason why it took so long. Despite this major outage starting Dec. 27 and lasting almost 48 hours, there have been no statements that I am aware of from Larry North, vice president of operations in New Mexico, or Jeff Storey, president and CEO of CenturyLink.

The public is owed an apology and explanation for this outage. Immediate communication with all customers was not done. This outage not only disrupted essential 911 services in multiple states, but also affected normal service and trunk lines to other carriers, such as Verizon. While the brief “official” explanation stated a “network element” was the cause, that is not acceptable or believable.

Another reason stated that a “network management card in a Denver Central office” was the failure. While electronics can fail, neither of these situations should have disrupted service. It is interesting that the Federal Communications Commission stated it will investigate, but why hasn’t there been any word from the company? For a company in the communication business, they sure failed on this.

For full disclosure, I retired from Qwest, CenturyLink’s predecessor, after a long career that included upper management positions in engineering and construction of the network. My education, training and background included not only fiber optic design and construction, digital electronics – routers, switches, digital carrier, etc. – but also self-healing network rings, packet switching and wholesale interconnection with other service providers – i.e. Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile.

I participated on the Qwest Disaster Recovery teams, and I do not recall ever having the network down for this kind of time and certainly never the 911 network. The 911 network should never have been down. The lack of this network can contribute to delays in rescue and fire saving lives.

The explanations given so far are not valid. The public may not be aware of it, but the communication network has redundancy and for essential services like inter-office trunking and 911 calls, there are duplicate fiber optic feeds – “rings” that duplicate the main circuit in another path – and switching equipment to these locations so that they may be switched electronically and automatically upon failure to a back-up network ring. All central offices have large back-up diesel generators to ensure an electrical outage will never affect phone service. When these systems are operating properly, the customer is unaware a failure occurred. If the automatic switching does not take place, employees involved with disaster recovery can intervene and manually switch the affected network to another fiber ring or electronic hub and service is restored until the actual damage is fixed.

CenturyLink has to have a disaster recovery plan with redundancies in place for electrical, inbound and outbound local and toll-free carriers, as well as network and hardware component redundancies. CenturyLink should be able to switch between multiple fiber optic rings or central offices in case entire networks of phones go down. They would then locate and repair, or replace, defective telecommunication components without the customer ever knowing. The fact that this did not happen is discouraging and scary for the consumer. The fact that it happened nationwide is even more surprising and disturbing. Hopefully the truth will come out soon.

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