AT&T cell service outage could spell trouble for company as reliance on mobile devices grow, experts say

AT&T's customers can use their phones again after an 11-hour span where customers were left with an "SOS" sign for their signal bar, only able to operate over Wi-Fi.

Lee McKnight is an associate professor of information studies. He studies outages like the one we saw on Thursday and says being unable to connect is scary for people these days.

"Lose my keys, I don’t actually care. Lose my wallet, I care a little bit. Lose my phone, now I’m in a panic," said McKnight.

FOX 35 also talked with Blair Levin, who used to be the Chief of Staff to the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

He says the outage could mean trouble for AT&T.

"I think what the FCC will be looking at when they investigate is, ‘Did AT&T exercise the standard of care that the government expects and that other companies do?’" explained Levin.

McKnight and Levin agreed that the outage is a problem for consumers, but the biggest issue is not being able to reach 911.

"That can cost lives and cause enormous amounts of pain," said Levin.

FOX 35 just reported last month on another AT&T issue where 911 callers in Flagler County couldn’t get through.


On Thursday, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office and the Sheriff’s Offices in Orange and Seminole counties said their call centers were fine but that AT&T customers were not.

Former Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolon says the connectivity issues are still an issue for first responders outside the dispatch centers.

"It’s a significant concern because law enforcement relies on cellular service not only to receive information from our citizens but also to communicate among law enforcement itself."

Rolon says this demonstrates the importance of having a plan within your family about what to do if communication systems go down.

"We rely on technology heavily, in order to do everything. And sometimes we tend to forget that, you know, there were other beings before technology," said Rolon. "A plan is always important to put people at ease when they know what to expect." 

An AT&T representative said in a statement, 

However, the representative ignored it when FOX 35 asked twice about what they were doing to prevent this from happening again and what caused it in the first place.

Gov. Ron DeSantis says he hasn’t gotten an answer on that either.

"It’s a little bit jarring to think about the implications of something like that happening on a greater scale," the governor said.

Levin says AT&T could wind up paying a fine to the FCC for this. However, he says the fine has to be big enough so that AT&T gets the message but not so large that it can’t invest in its network to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

He thinks the most significant penalty the company will pay is in brand reputation.