AT&T Outage Takes Down 911 Emergency Lines across the US
Millions of AT&T customers were left without 911 service for several hours last night. The outage appeared to have affected wireless customers across the country, with reports that customers were unable to reach emergency services in New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Chicago, Miami, San Francisco and Seattle, among other areas.
Although service was restored late last night, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has promised an investigation into the outage, according to a tweet sent by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai shortly after the outage began.
No Known Cause
So far, the company has not made any statement regarding the cause of the outage, other than to announce that it has been corrected. With potentially millions of people unable to reach emergency services, police and public safety officials in several cities tweeted alternate phone numbers AT&T customers could use to contact authorities in case of emergencies.
"The FCC's public safety professionals are on the case," Lisa Fowlkes, acting head of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, said today in a statement. "Access to 911 emergency services is essential for all Americans, especially the most vulnerable. We will fully investigate this outage and determine the root cause and its impact."
The outage is particularly significant given AT&T's position in the mobile phone market. The company is the second-largest wireless carrier in the country, with around 135 million subscribers.
Yesterday's service interruption also comes at a particularly difficult time for AT&T. Competition in the wireless market has been heating up this year, with all the major carriers slashing rates and offering other incentives to convince customers to switch service providers.
Claims about superior service quality have also been major selling points for carriers. AT&T competitors, such as Verizon and T-Mobile, may seek to use last night's outage to argue that they offer more reliable service.
In addition to giving free ammunition to competitors' marketing departments, the 911 outage appears to have done nothing to win AT&T any friends among government regulators, including the FCC.
"Every call to 911 must go through,” Pai said in the FCC's statement. "So when I first learned of yesterday's outage, I immediately directed FCC staff to contact AT&T about it and the company's efforts to restore access to emergency services to the American public. I also spoke with Randall Stephenson, AT&T's chief executive officer, and stressed the urgent need to restore service and to communicate with first responders, as well as AT&T customers, about the status of operations. Additionally, I announced last night that I have directed Commission staff to track down the root cause of this outage.”
Losing favor with the government’s most powerful telecommunications regulators could prove problematic for the company, particularly if it needs to seek FCC approval to merge with another carrier or change the way it charges customers for Internet data service.