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‘I couldn’t work the whole day’: AT&T outage frustrates customers on the go

Uber driver Damián Reyes was on his second ride of the day in the early hours of Thursday morning when he noticed something strange happening to his AT&T phone. First, his streaming music stopped playing. He restarted his phone, but his ride-sharing app went “completely blank,” he told CNN – all while he had a passenger in the backseat.

“I couldn’t work the whole day basically,” he said. “I thought it would probably come back on soon, and I’m just waiting and waiting and waiting.”

Left unable to pick up passengers, Reyes, who drives for Uber as his full-time job in Jacksonville, Florida, was one of millions of AT&T customers who struggled with a prolonged, nationwide outage on Thursday. He was left frustrated with the lack of communication by AT&T throughout the outage.

The company didn’t publicly acknowledge the outage until it first posted on its site about the outage at 11:15 am ET. Reports on outage tracking service Downdetector showed the network initially went down more than seven hours earlier: Reyes said he experienced the outage starting at 3:50 am ET. AT&T posted just once on X about the outage, pointing customers seeking more information to a faulty link.

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In a statement to CNN, AT&T said: “We apologize for what has been a very frustrating day for many of our customers.” It said the outage was caused by a software update that went wrong.

Mobile networks like AT&T’s have become lifelines for billions of people around the world. They enabled gig worker jobs like Reyes’. They allow people to access emergency services like 911 on the go. And they have connected the world to friends, family and colleagues no matter where they are.

For many AT&T customers, the network outage was far more than an inconvenience. And AT&T’s communication about its disruption, which stretched into the late afternoon, was insufficient, Reyes said.

“They could have at least sent a message. I went to AT&T’s Twitter and there was nothing,” he said. “Their phone line? They never answered the phone for me. I don’t know what was going on with them. I got no answer on the app, either.”

Reyes isn’t the only customer who felt let down by AT&T; angry customers flooded AT&T’s social media, blasting the company’s apparent lack of transparency.

“A simple banner on top of att.com that says ‘everything is broken, were working on it’ would save epic amounts of everyone’s time,” said one user on Reddit.

Late Thursday, hours after service was restored, AT&T provided some clarity about the outage, writing that an “initial review” found that it was likely caused by an internal error.

The company pointed to its use of customer care lines, social media handles, website and mobile app as places where updates were provided, given the fact that impacted customers were unable to receive text messages.

‘Not acceptable’

Nationwide outages are exceedingly rare. But some consumer advocates say the company’s communication through the predicament could have been better.

Mojtaba Vaezi, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Villanova University and director of the school’s Wireless Networking Laboratory, said the outage was “not acceptable,” especially as AT&T advertises its 5G network’s reliability.

John Breyault, vice president of public policy, telecommunications, and fraud at the National Consumers League, said that AT&T was in a tricky spot regarding communication since many customers couldn’t access updates through their phones. But the company could have taken steps to communicate using alternate methods, such as WiFi calling, he said.

A "No Service" message is seen on an iPhone in Atlanta during an AT&T outage on February 22. - Brook Joyner/CNN
A "No Service" message is seen on an iPhone in Atlanta during an AT&T outage on February 22. - Brook Joyner/CNN

Breyault said the company could have been posting updates on when they expected the outage to be resolved or different ways customers could access 911, which many news outlets were posting.

AT&T did not provide public guidance on setting up alternate services such as WiFi calling or the impact on emergency services.

911

Several local governments reported AT&T’s outage was disrupting emergency services. San Francisco’s Department of Emergency Management said in a statement on X Thursday morning that its 911 center remained operational, but many AT&T customers were unable to reach the emergency line because of the outage. It suggested people call from a landline or find someone with a rival’s service to dial 911.

At least one police department reported that its 911 line was briefly flooded with people dialing to see if their calls would go through from their cell phones.

An AT&T spokesman said the company’s FirstNet network remained operational despite the outage. FirstNet provides coverage for first responders, including police and fire departments, and is advertised as a more robust network than the AT&T commercial network. It uses a mix of its own infrastructure plus AT&T’s broader network.

What’s next

It’s unclear what the ultimate fallout will be for AT&T. US authorities are investigating the cause, and it may be subject to fines and additional regulatory scrutiny.

AT&T’s financial impact may go beyond fines: For frustrated customers like Reyes, some may ultimately choose switch to a different carrier.

“Maybe if they would have handled it differently, I probably would have stayed with them,” he added. “But I’m going to go to T-Mobile.”

- CNN’s Catherine Thorbecke and Clare Duffy contributed to this report.

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