A 911 service outage which affected an unannounced number of AT&T wireless customers across the United States for several hours on March 8 is being investigated by the FCC.
AT&T has confirmed the 911 problems for some wireless customers in an email reply to an inquiry from eWEEK, but did not release full details of what happened, how many customers or what areas of the country were affected by the outage.
The new Federal Communications Commission chairman, Ajit Pai, however, issued a statement on the night of March 8 that his agency has launched an investigation into AT&T's 911 service outage to protect residents.
"Every call to 911 must go through," Pai said in a 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."
Pai said he 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."
Pai said he also directed his staff to find out what caused the 911 service outage for AT&T wireless customers and provide a full report.
"The FCC's public safety professionals are on the case," Lisa Fowlkes, the acting chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, said 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."
A spokesman for the FCC did not respond to an inquiry from eWEEK seeking additional information.
In its email reply to eWEEK, AT&T said that 911 service had been restored for all wireless customers affected by the outage and the company apologized to affected users. The spokesman declined to comment further.
AT&T did post status messages on its Twitter account as the 911 outage was ongoing on March 8.
"Aware of issue affecting some calls to 911 for wireless customers. Working to resolve ASAP," the company posted in the first tweet. Later AT&T posted that the "issue has been resolved that affected some calls to 911 from wireless customers" in another tweet.
Though AT&T would not provide additional details, a March 8 story by The Washington Post reported that the outage lasted about 90 minutes and affected AT&T customers across the nation.
A story by The New York Times reported that the service outage affected AT&T customers in at least 14 states and Washington, D.C.
The outage caused city, county, law enforcement and emergency response officials in affected areas to post messages on social media networks to provide alternative phone numbers where residents could call in for emergencies, the story reported.