Sprint, others fined for mishandling 911 calls

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is fining Sprint and two other companies for their failure to handle 911 calls made by hard-of-hearing customers.

Hard-of-hearing individuals use an Internet captioning service or device while making calls that allow them to read what the person on the other end of the line has said. They don’t pay for the service, but the government pays back companies for offering them to consumers.

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Sprint, along with Hamilton Relay and InnoCaption, failed to accept 911 calls made through the devices for periods of time as short as five weeks to as long as 10 months, according to the commission. Even though they were not accepting the calls, they were asking the government to reimburse them for providing the service. The commission said that until their investigation revealed the problem, the companies were not aware of the issue.

The fines total roughly $1.4 million. Sprint will pay the bulk of the total, $1,175,000, while Hamilton Relay will pay $235,000 and InnoCaption will pay $25,000

“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,” said Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau. “Not only are we fining these companies for failing to provide this vital service, but we are assuring that they provide it going forward.”

As part of their settlement with the FCC, the companies have agreed to abide by the rules regarding the captioning devices and emergency calls and “strengthen policies and procedures for detection and notification of 911 call handling issues.” They are required to examine what future risks could prevent them from accepting 911 calls.