Verizon Wireless has returned its 4G network to service, at least in most places. The super-fast network went down on April 27 in the wee hours of the morning, and stayed down for at least 24 hours. The company communicated the existence of the outage through a single message on Twitter. It eventually reported the return the same way.
So far, Verizon Wireless has said nothing about the cause of the 4G outage, it hasn’t said what it did to fix it, nor has it given a timetable for returning those areas that remain out to service. However, late in the day on April 29 eWEEK was still receiving messages from customers reporting that at least some of their 4G services remain out.
I was able to confirm that the Verizon Wireless service had returned to operation. I took a review model of the HTC ThunderBolt to the place where I do 4G phone testing, and turned it on. Sure enough, the 4G symbol on the phone appeared. On April 27 I got an ominous 1X symbol, telling me that I was using the ultra-slow 1XRRT network from days gone by. The phone never did revert to 3G service.
The fact that Verizon Wireless has gotten its 4G data network running again is good news for customers. Once again they can use those expensive phones and mobile hotspots that they’re paying 4G prices for. Unfortunately, it’s not clear what else Verizon Wireless is doing to make sure this doesn’t happen again and it’s not saying what it will do to compensate those customers who are paying for 4G service but who went for a day or two without it.
In fact, Verizon Wireless isn’t saying much of anything. If you didn’t happen to be following one of the Verizon Wireless Twitter feeds at the time of the outage, you’d never know what happened. Likewise, you’d never know when the network restoration effort was started and you’d never know the service had been restored in your area short of turning on your phone to see if the network was running in your area.
For reasons that (like everything else) remain unexplained, Verizon Wireless executives apparently felt no need to keep its customers and the public informed about the outage or its restoration. I searched in vain for information on the company Website. Nothing. I looked at the corporate press release stash. Nope. I Googled the outage and found lots of reports by third parties (including eWEEK) that said the network was down, but nothing from Verizon Wireless.
Verizon Fails to Serve Public Interest
What I got instead was an earful of anger from customers of Verizon Wireless when they read my column on April 27. Some of these people were new Verizon Wireless customers who planned to cancel their service. One was a small business that had purchased a 4G mobile hotspot as their means of Internet access. They were effectively out of business during the outage. The rest of the comments were people who simply expected better of a company that made its name on the quality of its network.
What these people got instead was nothing. The 4G network didn’t work on their ThunderBolts, and their 4G mobile hotspots didn’t work at all since they didn’t have a means of falling back to 3G or even the primitive 1X that the ThunderBolts had. Through this whole time there was not a word from Verizon Wireless.
Their customers, unless they were Twitter subscribers who happened to intuitively know that they needed to follow a specific Twitter feed out of the many that the company uses, had no way to find out until late in the day that the 4G outage was known, that a fix was in the works, or that it had finally been restored.
Verizon Wireless, by not stepping up to the responsibility of being a public carrier, simply chose to punt. Or perhaps, Tweet. It was not an acceptable response.
The problem with being a public wireless carrier is that you have a responsibility to serve the public interest. You are expected to provide emergency communications; you’re expected to provide communications where and when you promise; and you’re expected to let people know when-for whatever reason-you can’t do that.
On one hand, Verizon Wireless takes its responsibilities seriously by doing things such as providing temporary cell sites to areas such as Alabama which was stuck by the worst tornado outbreak in state history. This is a good and important task for which Verizon Wireless should be commended. That’s happening, because Verizon Wireless is letting everyone know through a flurry of press releases, stories on the news wire, and postings on its Web site.
But now that Verizon Wireless has demonstrated that it knows it has a Website, and that it knows about the news wires, you have to wonder, why didn’t the company feel compelled to tell its own customers what the problem was? For that matter, why didn’t it tell its own customer service staff about the problem? I’ve heard from many Verizon Wireless customers who were either blown off by customer service, received made up and wildly imaginary stories, or simply got the shrugged shoulder response.
In the process, Verizon Wireless performed a great disservice to its customers, and to the public at large. But in the process it did something much worse-Verizon Wireless lost the trust of its customers.