Why are FCC outage reports treated as confidential?

Sean Donelan sean at donelan.com
Wed Feb 24 22:36:48 UTC 2021

FCC is proposing a change to who can have access to FCC outage reports.

But first a little history....

After the 1990 AT&T Long Distance switching network collapse, there were 
lots of investigations. The January 15th outage was the biggest, there 
were a few more smaller crashes in 1990 and 1991.

The Network Reliability Council at was first organized by the FCC in 
January of 1992 following a series of major service outages in various 
local exchange and interexchange wireline telephone networks.

In 1992, the FCC established mandatory network outage reporting 
requirements for telephone carriers.  Originally, outage reports were 
public documents, although you needed to visit the FCC offices in 
Washington DC to view them in person. Eventually, the FCC posted 
the outage reports online during the early days of the Internet.

Originally, outage reports were presumed public, unless specifically 
determined to be confidential.  I recall an outage report about a 
circuit serving Area 51 which disappared after it was filed.

In 2004, the FCC decided “[t]he disclosure of outage reporting 
information to the public could present an unacceptable risk of more 
effective terrorist activity".  Actually what happened, one carrier 
started using FCC outage reports in its advertising claims that it was 
"more reliable" than other carriers because it reported fewer outages to 
the FCC. The other carriers got upset and complained to the FCC. 
Instead of telling the one carrier to stop using the outage reports in 
its advertisements, the FCC made all the outage reports confidential.

After the decision to make outage reports presumptively confidential, 
in addition to the public, other state, local and federal agencies 
no longer had access to them.

Although FCC still won't make the outage reports public, its creating a 
complicated process for selective parties to have access to the outage 

Amendments to Part 4 of the Commission’s Rules Concerning Disruptions to 
Communications: Second Report and Order - PS Docket No. 15-80


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