A Tribute to AT&T’s Victims

by Colin Berkshire

AT&T has suffered several outages of their 911 System. The regulatory response was a slap on the hand with a $5.25 million fine. This fine is not enough to curb future misbehavior.

An independent company should have been hired by the federal government. This company should have contacted each person that attempted to call 911. (There is a list of the call attempts, so we know who they were.) Each call should have been summarized and categorized. Was an error? Was it a medical emergency? What happened? Was the caller able to promptly call 911 via alternate means? Was there any known adverse outcome because the 911 call did not go through?

Only with such a study could the economic impact of the outage be known. Only through such a study could those seriously affected be identified and be compensated.

Individual subscribers are prohibited from suing AT&T because the terms and conditions of the AT&T service agreement take away the right to file a lawsuit in court. The collective right of all of these people has also been taken away, because the AT&T service agreement denies subscribers class action rights. (This outage is exactly the type of thing that a class action is supposed to bring equality for.)

To me is seems reasonable that at least a few of those 15,000 desperate 911 callers would have sustained serious harm as a result of the outage. And, they got nothing from the company that exacerbated their harm: AT&T.

I have been on the board of an official fire department citizen’s advisory committee. Here is a sobering statistic: a one minute delay in response time during a heart attack directly correlates with a 10% reduction in the quality of that person’s remaining life.

It stands to reason that AT&T materially hurt people during the outage. And AT&T didn’t have any interest in quantifying the harm. Our regulators didn’t think of helping those it is tasked with protecting. And nobody sees anything wrong with a common carrier having a clause that prohibits class actions in a case such as this.

I, for one, want to know. I want to know what the harm was. This is something that we could very much know and understand and study and quantify.

That which is measured can be managed.