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Storm Causes AT&T Outage Across Midwest 213

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the guess-who-this-includes dept.
dstates writes "AT&T left users across several Midwestern states without cellular phone service yesterday. The outage apparently resulted from a power failure at a Michigan switching center and spread to affect level3 Internet communications. The powerful windstorm also left 400,000 users without electricity. Interestingly, except for a few reports in Chicago and Indianapolis papers, AT&T has managed to keep this out of the mainstream media. Widespread communication failures also followed Hurricane Ike in Texas earlier this year. With the increasing trend for users to drop landlines and rely only on cell phones, this is becoming an emergency preparedness issue." Yes this included me. Still does. At least my office still has power — maybe we'll just camp here tonight. :)
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Storm Causes AT&T Outage Across Midwest

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  • Roaming? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday December 29, 2008 @10:58AM (#26257721)

    The problem isn't the cell phone network per-se, but rather the inability of these providers to peer with each other. AT&T may have been down, but what about T-Mobile, the other GSM provider in the United States? When a major failure like this occurs that locks out only some cell phone users in a given area, the problem is not technology but politics.

    Why, given how critical cell phones are during an emergency, this is allowed to continue is beyond me. Congress seems to care more about protecting corporate profits and reputation than providing a robust cellular network for its citizens. Hey, homeland security, are you listening? Fix this.

    • Re:Roaming? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Lumpy (12016) on Monday December 29, 2008 @11:01AM (#26257763) Homepage

      AT&T/Comcast/AT&T burned a LOT of bridges when they became Cingular. I used to be able to roam almost anywhere, and if a roaming tower was the best strength I connected to that. After cingular got involved they pissed off a lot of other carriers. Now my phone refuses to talk to any nearby roaming towers but tries to connect to that single AT&T tower about 12 miles away that gives me barely any signal. I have to hack my phones to disable this configuration to get decent cellphone service out of them.

      • Re:Roaming? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Shakrai (717556) on Monday December 29, 2008 @11:26AM (#26258031) Journal

        AT&T/Comcast/AT&T burned a LOT of bridges when they became Cingular. I used to be able to roam almost anywhere, and if a roaming tower was the best strength I connected to that. After cingular got involved they pissed off a lot of other carriers. Now my phone refuses to talk to any nearby roaming towers but tries to connect to that single AT&T tower about 12 miles away that gives me barely any signal

        I don't think that really has to do with burning bridges. It has to do with AT&T not wanting to pay money for you to roam. It costs them money every single minute that you are using another carriers network.

        I used to have a T-Mobile phone (had to ditch them for Verizon when I moved in with the GF -- no signal at her house) and they did the same thing. They would disable roaming on AT&T/Cingular in areas where they had coverage. Even if you were in a zone with no T-Mobile service you couldn't hop onto Cingular. To be able to roam on Cingular you had to drive out of the county where T-Mobile had native coverage -- then you'd be able to connect to and use the Cingular network. If you were within the county where they had native service but happened to be in a dead zone you were SOL -- roaming wasn't allowed.

        I have to hack my phones to disable this configuration to get decent cellphone service out of them.

        I'm surprised that worked. With GSM your home network decides whether or not you will be allowed to connect to that roaming partner based on the location area code [wikipedia.org]. If that LAC indicates an area where they have native service they probably won't let you connect to the roaming partner. If it indicates an area where they don't have native service then you stand a better chance of being allowed to use that roaming partner.

        • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

          by bogaboga (793279)

          Does this kind of situation explain why we in North America are a little bit "behind" Europeans and Asians when it comes to the "cell phone" and exploiting its maximum potential?

          I hear the "cell phone" elsewhere in the world is capable of so much more than simply making calls and texting, which are the bulk of what we use cell phones for over here.

          • Re:Roaming? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Shakrai (717556) on Monday December 29, 2008 @11:53AM (#26258325) Journal

            Does this kind of situation explain why we in North America are a little bit "behind" Europeans and Asians when it comes to the "cell phone" and exploiting its maximum potential?

            No. All this situation relates to is which networks you are allowed to roam on. Europe works much the same way. If you have Deutsch Telekom phone you probably aren't going to be able to connect to and use Vodafone's network in an area where DT has native coverage. Why should they pay Vodafone a per minute rate for you to roam when they have a native network in the area where you happen to be?

            I hear the "cell phone" elsewhere in the world is capable of so much more than simply making calls and texting, which are the bulk of what we use cell phones for over here.

            *shrug*, we have a smartphone market. I haven't been in Europe for a few years but the last time I was over there I was actually disappointed with the state of 3G. It's probably better now but when I was in Europe their 3G offerings weren't any better than ours.

            Japan and South Korea are different animals -- they are a full generation ahead of Europe and the US and people use their phones for all manner of things over there. That's as much cultural as anything -- how many Americans don't even see the point of SMS let alone internet browsing? Most people I know with phones regard them as phones and don't care about the extra features.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by lysergic.acid (845423)

              there are major cultural differences between Japan/South Korea and the U.S. to be sure, but there are also fundamental socioeconomic & technological differences as well. these things are inextricably tied to one another i think, so you really can't discuss one without the other.

              one major point of divergence is Japan's more progressive approach to public infrastructure. whereas the US favors privatization and deregulation, the Japanese government takes a more pro-active approach in promoting technologica

        • Re:Roaming? (Score:4, Informative)

          by Lumpy (12016) on Monday December 29, 2008 @11:48AM (#26258287) Homepage

          Nokia phones can get set to have a preferred tower ID. I get into them and set the preferred tower id to a roaming tower that gives full strength at my house. I used to have a blackjack, but got rid of it because it cant do that.

          the preferred tower setting overrides it somehow and it works. I've been doing this for the past 4 years and they still have not canceled my account.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Shakrai (717556)

            Then your network must allow roaming in that particular area. With GSM the network that you connect to (even if it's the native network) contacts your home location register [wikipedia.org] to find out if your phone is allowed to connect to that particular part of the network and what features are enabled on your account.

            If your provider saw fit they could disable roaming and no amount of hacks to your device would override it.

            I've been doing this for the past 4 years and they still have not canceled my account.

            I doubt they ever would, unless you are predominately using the roaming partner instead of your

          • Re:Roaming? (Score:4, Informative)

            by awyeah (70462) * on Monday December 29, 2008 @12:17PM (#26258563)

            There are two things at play here: The ability to control network selection on the handset, and what the cellular networks allow you to do.

            On GSM devices, there's a flag on the SIM card that tells your phone whether or not to show you the "manual network selection" menu. With AT&T, their SIM cards are configured to disable this menu when you're in the US, but enable it when outside the US.

            However, on many devices, you can force them to ignore the SIM setting and have manual network selection enabled always. With Motorola phones, you can do it via SEEM editing, and there's obviously a way to do it on Symbian as well. This is what Lumpy is doing.

            Shakrai, what you're talking about is the actual roaming agreements between providers. This also affects network selection. Providers can specify which phones are allowed on their network. Legally, all phones must be allowed to associate with all GSM towers to provide 911 capability, but they can be limited to just that. For example, when I only have T-Mobile coverage, my AT&T BlackBerry shows "SOS" where the signal bars usually are.

            AT&T and T-Mobile have been doing this for a while. They had roaming agreements where specific cell sites would allow the other operator's phones in areas where the other operator's coverage was spotty.

            So when Lumpy uses manual network selection on his phone, which he had to enable by modifying something, the rules that the operators set forth on their networks still apply. If he tries to associate with a T-Mobile tower in certain areas, he will most likely get locked out, but in other areas he may not.

        • by afidel (530433)
          The thing that pissed me off was even though their towers were providing NO service they were still locking my phone into the AT&T network. I tried to refresh my host routing table but it just came back with Cingular towers, it was frustrating that the towers were alive enough to fark up my tables but not enough to complete a call.
      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        AT&T didn't "become" Cingular, they bought them out. I'd been happy with Cingular for years; never any dead spots, never any roaming charges, then AT&T bought them and the service became nonexistant while my bills went through the roof. I think they might have bitten off more than they could chew when they bought Cingular.

        As to the actual topic, the statement "With the increasing trend for users to drop landlines and rely only on cell phones, this is becoming an emergency preparedness issue" is igno

        • The wikipedia article I linked was not correct in many aspects. For instance, it said "The hardest hit areas were in the commercial area around White Oaks Mall and along Veterans Parkway". Actually the area by what is known to locals as the "Wabash Curve" in a line to south 9th street were the hardest hit, and a stretch of Dirkeon Parkway on the far east side of town. Dirkson was closed for weeks, as it was covered in utility poles.

          A commercial building by the Wabash Curve (which no longer actually exists,

          • by LoadWB (592248)

            Or, as part of the community which builds Wikipedia, YOU could fix it.

            • by mcgrew (92797) *

              Nope. I gave up on editing wikipedia a long time ago, and it just keeps getting worse.

              When I found I had a cataract, of course I hit wikipedia and looked up "cataract surgery". It was helpful, but the device that my doctor was to implant in my eye in place of its occluded lens wasn't listed, even though the FDA had approved its use three years earlier.

              So I edited the entry, and added the acommodating lens, which my surgeon had implanted. Wikipedia mentioned the single focus IOLs that had been used since the

    • Re:Roaming? (Score:5, Informative)

      by zappepcs (820751) on Monday December 29, 2008 @11:05AM (#26257793) Journal

      They are trying to fix it [datacenterknowledge.com], much the same way that Sarbanes-Oxley fixes accounting problems. Communications providers are required to keep an 8 hour power backup on all sites and 24+ backup on 'important' sites like switching centers or something along those lines. The idea is that storms like those that hit New Orleans would not cause the problems that they did. This storm is exactly the thing this measure by the FCC is supposed to fix... HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

      Legislators (Goodbye FCC) do NOT know how to run businesses. Some perhaps, but on the whole they are terrible business advisers and this legislation only proves it in the aftermath of this storm. I hold a harsh opinion of this situation because AT&T should have had backups in place to handle this situation. All Communications providers deal with such things and AT&T has enough history to know what to do... shame on them.

      • Re:Roaming? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by zappepcs (820751) on Monday December 29, 2008 @11:16AM (#26257919) Journal

        BTW, besides those rescuers you see on television after a storm, remember that there are ordinary heroes sitting in a truck babysitting a generator, or climbing poles, or renting a snowcat to get to the tower site so that your phone will work when you want it to. They are suffering the elements, usually alone, and bear the responsibilities of ensuring your comfort with little or no thanks. They are up all night watching the weather, planning and preparing to go babysit that tower(s) so your phone or pager will work. They work almost tirelessly for the simple comfort of knowing that when the shit hit the fan, the equipment they are responsible for did not fail. They are little appreciated on a normal day, and unseen during the emergency, but it is their dedication that you count on and not the system or the company.

        • Re:Roaming? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Shakrai (717556) on Monday December 29, 2008 @11:36AM (#26258149) Journal

          I wish I had mod points for you. I used to work for a WISP and had the "privilege" of climbing towers in god-awful weather after storms to restore service to our customers. It's scary enough to climb the things in normal weather. Doing it Upstate New York in January after a storm has coated the tower with ice is absolutely horrible.

          The worst part was that was my first job and I only got paid $10/hr to scale the friggen things. Looking back on it I wasn't making nearly enough money to be risking my life like that. At least our customers were appreciative though. That helped more than you can imagine.

        • by Viol8 (599362) on Monday December 29, 2008 @11:55AM (#26258351)

          .. if "the company" didn't pay them, they wouldn't get out of bed. Lets not pretend they're up those poles out of the kindness of their hearts.

        • Unsung Heros (Score:3, Insightful)

          Exactly right!

          Most bean counter types don't have a clue why they have all those over priced techies on the payroll, and when cost cutting comes along, they make an easy target.

          I don't have to go around in bad weather fixing crappy equipment, as I'm a Network Analyst, but the details could easily fit my job.

          Most of the time, I'm watching, monitoring, tweaking, updating, and so on. That's my job when the shit isn't hitting the fan. Most of the time I can avert disaster by seeing the shit before it hits the fa

        • Re:Roaming? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by JWSmythe (446288) * <jwsmytheNO@SPAMjwsmythe.com> on Monday December 29, 2008 @12:34PM (#26258737) Homepage Journal

              Several years ago, I was driving across the country from Florida to California. I was only a couple days behind a hurricane that had made a mess. No, it was way before Katrina.

              Every hotel along I-10 for hundreds of miles had utility trucks from all over the place. I usually drive at night to avoid traffic, and I know these guys need to at least get a little bit of sleep. I know the utility guys get sent out from all over the place to fix problems induced by bad storms. It never really hit me that it wasn't just a few hundred sent, but an entire army. I would stop at hotels, and they would tell me that they were completely booked up because of the utility guys. Not just their hotel, but every hotel in the city. "Try the next town, 50 miles down the road." It's not like they were hogging the rooms, they were stuffed in. One guy per bed, and a guy or two on the floor. This is our civilian army, that keeps things working after a disaster.

              Unfortunately, all the general public knows is "they don't have my power on yet.", even though it is an army working hard to repair everything. People like instant gratification. They think it should be a light switch fix (hit the switch, it works).

              It's a job I wouldn't want. High voltages, dangerous weather, and long hours.

          • by kimvette (919543)

            Unfortunately, all the general public knows is "they don't have my power on yet.", even though it is an army working hard to repair everything. People like instant gratification. They think it should be a light switch fix (hit the switch, it works).

            The really stupid part of all of this? We're still using 19th-century techniques, stringing utility lines overhead rather than laying them underground where they would be unaffected by most weather.

            • Look it up - the difference between overhead and buried lines is generally a wash; it depends on geography, but the cost isn't that much different.
        • by Ironica (124657)

          Of course there are actual people doing the work, and "the work" may be very difficult or dangerous. But my business relationship is with the company, and it's up to that company to hire sufficient people to do that work. If something goes down, then that implies that they did NOT hire enough or the right people... or that $#!% happens, and things went down anyway despite their efforts. If it happens rarely and I get apologies, I assume the latter. If it happens frequently and I get blown off, I assume

    • Do landlines work any different?

      If I get landline service from one provider and it's switching center gets knocked out during a disaster, can I then make calls through another provider?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by bberens (965711)
        Land lines were put in place a long time ago, when businesses and government were still foolish enough to consider common citizens in their decision making. Therefore the land lines have MUCH better redundancy systems in place when compared to the wireless systems.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Opportunist (166417)

        I don't know about landlines in the US, but in Europe most of them are in the ground. A storm doesn't really bother them.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by kimvette (919543)

          Crap, I just made a similar post above before I saw yours. If I'd seen yours first I'd have modded you up.

          That is exactly the problem; because we built our infrastructure back when everything was bleeding edge first-generation technology, the world has passed us behind. Our internet infrastructure is still based on ARPANET-era lines in spots, our ISPs are still using first-generation broadband and because of municipalities granting monopolies they are raping us on pricing (I paid for unlimited internet that

        • by afidel (530433)
          This wasn't towers, it was a power failure combined with incompetence running a switching center. Every piece of equipment should have had full redundant power sources with sufficient battery power on each to fix the generator if there was a problem.
    • Re:Roaming? (Score:4, Informative)

      by yelvington (8169) on Monday December 29, 2008 @11:13AM (#26257865) Homepage

      We're staying with relatives on a farm south of Chicago. All the AT&T phones lost their ability to dial out, yet they could receive incoming calls. Our T-Mobile phones were fine.

      You're right, this is a case of corporate power struggles trumping customer service, as any of these phones should automatically fail over to another GSM network. In an emergency, dialing out is essential.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Shakrai (717556)

        You're right, this is a case of corporate power struggles trumping customer service, as any of these phones should automatically fail over to another GSM network. In an emergency, dialing out is essential.

        T-Mobile has been known to enable unrestricted roaming during natural disasters. During non-disasters they limit the areas that you can roam based on where they have native service. If they have native service in your city you will never be allowed to connect to AT&T no matter how crappy the T-Mobile signal is. During some natural disasters they've removed this restriction and you can connect to AT&T (and other GSM providers) at will.

        Comes in handy if the T-Mobile network goes down or is congeste

    • WPS [ncs.gov] and GETS [ncs.gov] did not work from my cellular phone during this time. This was quite a severe outage, and caused 'No Service' for a very wide area locally as well. I did not determine if it was due to the tower being without power though, most sites have 8-12 hours of standby power at most.

    • This is why GSM providers here are required by law to carry a call to an emergency number, no matter what provider the caller has. They're also required to give an emergency call a line, no matter what and no matter what strain is already put on the network. The only exception to this is that you may refuse emergency calls if your network is already working at maximum load AND only carrying emergency calls (pretty unlikely, but imagine a 9/11 situation).

      This is why you may see the info "emergency call only"

    • by dominux (731134) on Monday December 29, 2008 @12:08PM (#26258467) Homepage
      Put the keylock on and dial 112, 911 or 999 on any mobile, watch as it punches straight through the keylock and will dial. It will place the call over any mobile network it can reach, roaming or otherwise. Now try it with no credit on a pay as you go SIM. still works. Now take the SIM out. Still works.
      • Ah, at least on the Motorola RAZR v2, if you remove the SIM card, the phone will not be able to dial or perform any functions. It will simply stall at "Insert SIM card," and not boot.

        • by dominux (731134)
          so does my Ericsson. but try pressing 112 when it is in that state (don't press the call button though)
    • by JBHarris (890771)
      Currently, If you dial 911 on any cellular phone in the US it will use any network it can see, regardless of the carrier or owner of the tower. An AT&T phone will use T-Mobile towers for 911 calls without hesitation, etc. Unless the "emergency" calls you spoke of were people calling their girlfriends to make sure they were OK....in which case, yes...your point stands.
  • by littlewink (996298) on Monday December 29, 2008 @11:04AM (#26257777)
    then you're out of luck. Most landline phones have independent power and will work in an emergency. That's one reason I always have a landline.
  • Camping at the office is a time-honored tradition here in Minnesota, and now that the offices have internet access it's WAY more fun! ;)

  • by freedom_india (780002) on Monday December 29, 2008 @11:14AM (#26257885) Homepage Journal

    First Question of any contract: Any contract in which any of the party is unable to fulfill the terms of the contract will be is liable to either NOT collect remuneration of the said contract for that quantity, OR reimburse the amount for that period.
    Will AT&T send me a check for the days my service was out?
    Because last i checked, weather is not a cause for NOT fulfilling a contract. For the same reason i cannot claim weather for not paying my mortgage.
    Question is, will AT&T refund the amount for the period of outage.
    If not a class-action suit can be filed in coordination with other users.

    • by cthulu_mt (1124113) on Monday December 29, 2008 @11:20AM (#26257959)
      Most contracts include a "Force Majure" clause that absolves the service provider in the event of a natural disaster.
      • by macx666 (194150) on Monday December 29, 2008 @11:28AM (#26258059) Homepage

        The inability for AT&T's datacenter in Michigan to have power backups that can last more than a day should hardly be considered a natural disaster.

        I'd love to see something happen in terms of getting money back, but somehow I doubt most subscribers care enough to push for it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by jaredmauch (633928)

          If the facility had the roof blown off due to the 60mph+ winds we had, and caused a safety hazard due to exposed wiring, etc.. I certainly can see a case, but this is all conjecture. Unless you (and I don't) have facts to support your postulation, we can go on feeding the echo chamber more and more!

          • by macx666 (194150)

            No, I don't know for fact that they don't have adequate power backup. I do know for fact that they didn't loose their roof. I also know, as I live in the general area, that other than a few trees down here and there, power was the only problem.

            I certainly didn't see anything about trees falling on datacenters in the storm reports I've read through. I have, however, read about many many people being out of power because of the winds.

    • by Blimey85 (609949)
      Brighthouse had some failure a couple weeks back and cable tv service was out for 8 to 20 hours depending on where you lived. Happened right when two big sports games were on tv so a lot of people were pissed. Brighthouse is doing pro-rated refunds for that time period. They also sent a coupon for a free pay per view movie and a letter of apology. A coupon for a free pay per view event, wrestling, boxing, whatever, would have been much nicer as I've already seen all of the pay per movies that I want to see
    • by squidguy (846256)
      Will AT&T send me a check for the days my service was out?
      They won't send you a check, unless you happen to have a balance in your favor when you terminate your account. Call your carrier and request a credit because of a service outage - if you are polite and a good customer (e.g., pays on time) they will give it to you...even if it was due to weather.
      • Making AT&T pay... (Score:4, Informative)

        by freedom_india (780002) on Monday December 29, 2008 @12:34PM (#26258739) Homepage Journal

        A Credit is NOT the same as a check.
        Reimbursement needs to be in the same terms of original contract.
        You don't give them CREDIT for providing you service. They take your money: period.
        Similarly, ask for a check or money order sent to your address. If they refuse, sue them in small claims court for violating a contract.
        Why should you accept CREDIT when they don't accept yours?
        A Credit is just an interest-free loan to these guys.
        Refuse to accept unilateral changes to your contract and demand the repayment from them in check or cash.
        Better yet, do the following:
        1) Send a registered letter to their local office demanding financial compensation for the days not in service and quote the contract. Give them 7 calendar days to pay (not working days).
        2) Wait for 7 days and when they don't respond, file a complaint with small claims court. Ask the clerk to send a notice to their local exchange in telephone directory with another 7 calendar days to respond.
        3) They still wont respond for $5 or $10.
        4) Enter a default judgment. Tell the judge they insulted him/her by deeming this court to be beneath their status (appeals to vanity and not logic). The judge will be furious on their own to consider MAXIMUM enforcement.
        5) Get the judge to declare that AT&T is in default of a debt to you. This is very important. Because this disassociates the original contract from the debt. In other words, in the eyes of law, AT&T is indebted to you for the said amount as if they borrowed money from you (in a way true).
        5) Now the judge will ask what do you want to do: Request that the judge allows you to seize their assets for payment of this debt. Get a bailiff order.
        6) Call your close friends/relatives and state there (from a pay phone or get somebody else to call) to gather at the local AT&T office for a fire sale.
        7) Get the Sheriff and a deputy. Go to the AT&T office and paste the order to their door stating their assets are being seized for discharging a debt. Throw every employee out. Ask any protesters to be considered as disobeying a judge's order.
        8) Ask the sheriff to seize their equipment and conduct an auction at the doors with Sheriff and his officers as guards.
        9) Your friends and relatives should have arrived by now. Make them bid 10 cents or 20 cents for iPhones, telephones, routers, computers, etc., and sell it to them at that price.
        10) Finish the sale within 15 mins enough to collct your debt. The longer you delay, the exponential the probability that some retarded employee will call a AT&T lawyer who gets the judgment suspended.
        11) Now you have a nice collection of worthy items for the $10 you were owed by AT&T. Plus AT&T credit is screwed because you had a lien and auction of their property.

        If you had owed 30 cents on a mortgage that was overdue, ANY bank would do the same to you.

  • I was going to notify the press, but I couldn't get any calls on my cell phone to go through.

  • by erroneus (253617) on Monday December 29, 2008 @11:35AM (#26258129) Homepage

    They are major advertisers and can pretty much control what is reported about them most of the time. All they had to do was make a few calls... oh wait...

  • Not a conspiracy (Score:5, Informative)

    by jmkaza (173878) on Monday December 29, 2008 @11:37AM (#26258159)

    AT&T has managed to keep this out of the mainstream media

    I'm in Arizona, and I saw that AT&T service was down in the midwest from multiple sources, before I finished my first cup of coffee. If there's been any lack of information reported about this, my guess is that's because the press is more concerned about hundreds of thousands who are without power in below freezing conditions, rather than a few people who can't make phone calls.

    • by egburr (141740)
      I'm in North Carolina, where the weather was pretty good (it broke 70 yesterday)with only light rain. I had no trouble with my cell phone, but completely lost useful internet access for hours. I was unable to get anything but local news, which had no mention of the problem. At first, many sites I frequent failed to respond, and soon even DNS was failing to resolve. Traceroutes on IP addresses I knew all stopped at some router *.washington.level3.net (which I figured was Washington DC). About six hours into
    • by egburr (141740)
      I'm in North Carolina and was affected by this. No trouble with my cell phone, but lost internet access for hours. I would never have associated it with a storm in Michigan!

      At first, all but relatively local sites quit responding, them eventually DNS quit resolving altogether. Tracerouts to some IP addresses I knew all stopped at a router *.washington.level3.net (which I figured is Washington DC). About 4-5 hours later, everything started working again.

      I still wouldn't have associated this with the AT

  • Natural disasters seem to be all the rage lately.

    A few weeks ago, the U.S. Northeast was hit by a major ice storm. At the peak, ~1.4 million people were without power [reuters.com] across Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and upstate New York. FEMA declared emergencies in several areas, and each state declared emergencies and disaster areas in additional areas. Like a lot of people, I lost power for several days, which means I also lost heat and water (not on municipal water or on piped gas). This guy [tordevries.com] had the pr

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by haruchai (17472)

      Welcome to Canada - we see that all the time in Montreal; it's actually quite beautiful, until it gets heavy enough to snap trees, down powerlines, make sidewalks and roads unnavigable.

      • by Dekortage (697532)
        Yeah, I can believe this happens elsewhere on a more regular basis. The emergencies were from exactly what you said: snapped trees, downed powerlines, etc. My neighbor had one 40-foot elm split down the middle and land on his roof, and a similarly-sized maple tree uprooted from the weight of the ice -- as it fell, it took out the transformer on a nearby power pole, then landed on his truck. Ouch.
  • by mpapet (761907) on Monday December 29, 2008 @11:38AM (#26258179) Homepage

    The summary is full of *very* misplaced expectations regarding wireless service.

    A. There was never an expectation that the service would ever be plain old telephone service (POTS) quality. Thinking otherwise just sets you up for disappointment. Telco's pretty much hate POTS because it was designed and regulated to be extremely reliable. Get a POTS line and move on.

    B. ATT doesn't care if individuals go without service. A few hundred thousand users having downtime for hours is nothing because it can be blamed on an "act of God." They care if they have to go before their regulators because that costs campaign contributions.

    C. I have a bank of dial-up modems as the very last line of defense in our NOC for just this reason. We deal with messages, so it would work in a bad situation. Not ideal, but I'll take it and our customer's PHB's are generally pleased we think that carefully.

    POTS is good. Long live POTS.

  • Infrastructure! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by grolaw (670747)

    90 day profit margins have run the USA for the past 8 years - so the Minneapolis I-35 bridge collapses, New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are totaled and now we are looking at primary communications breaking down.

    For more than 50 years telephone carried its own power. If your power line went down odds were that you still could call for an ambulance/fire over your telephone.

    Today - we still have the weasels who claim that they are making the "homeland" safe against terrorists - but not storms!

    We need infrastru

  • I experienced this yesterday driving west across the state on I-94--I kept getting "network busy" around Ann Arbor.
  • I rarely use it. Actually, I never do, thinking about it. But one thing is certain: It will work in an emergency situation. It is independent from the local electricity (powered by the telco, don't ask me the details), cables are down in the ground (so even a citywide fire would do little harm to them, provided the switching boxes last, which they should do, being in fireproof environments), whatever insanity happens I will most likely get to hear a dialtone when I pick up.

    Call me paranoid, but considering

  • I have AT&T in Indianapolis. At my house, I normally have at least 4 bars of service. Last month, it went to complete "No Service", because apparently the tower servicing my area was having issues. When I called AT&T, it took going to seven different support representatives before I could actually find someone who could look at their network monitoring data and tell me a tower went down. Knowing that they knew it was a problem, I figured it would be quickly resolved. NO SIR! They said it would
  • Am I the only person that expected this to be about the Storm network doing a DDoS, or some such, to AT&T's network...
  • by TheHawke (237817) <rchapin@@@pelicancoast...net> on Monday December 29, 2008 @12:45PM (#26258835)

    You cell phone users just don't get it, do you?
    One of the major reasons why they want you away from your landline service is that they don't have to comply with the state or fed rules, tariffs, and laws forcing them to maintain POTS service even through the worst of weather.

    Lose a cell tower? Fine, two weeks to get it back up.
    Lose a phone line, depending on your state, from 12 hours to a working week in compliance with PUC regulations (in Texas it's 5 days, then Austin gets froggy).
    Business landline goes down, 3-5 hours, as fast as a tech can get on site after getting pulled from a lower priority job.
    Business cell service breaks, ok, duh, you get the point now?

    What is $15-$25/mo for basic POTS service that is there when you need it in comparison to $60+ cell service that is still not as dependable as we like it to be?
    I'll keep my POTS service and call forward from it to my cell, keeps the telemarketers at bay.

  • I've always wondered what do people do that have dropped their landline service for cell/VOIP/Cable only service when they have a multi-day power outage? We've seen these outages after Hurricanes in the South/texas areas as well as ice storms in the midwest and northeast. In the recent ice storm (~2weeks ago) in NewEngland, all hardware stores had large signs up out front that said 'No Generators', I even heard of one guy that drove from NH to CT to get a generator.

    • New England resident here: I've got a Duracell Pocket Power charger, a battery-less solar USB charger, and an old 4-AA battery iPod charger (clunky, but can still give an iPhone a charge). I'm in the city now, but long power outages used to be a problem back in the boonies. It's always good to be prepared.

      It's crazy how many people who live anywhere (city or country) who don't have a maglite/crank radio/space blankets/stash of emergency food.
    • by tcgroat (666085)

      A 12V car charger will do nicely. Most phones come with one, and even if yours doesn't they're widely available and don't cost much. The charger is low current, so you don't need to run the engine while charging.

      The bigger concern is the cell company's infrastructure. I can't believe they fought the FCC's run time and maintenance requirements. Because the cell phone system is part of the 9-1-1 communications infrastructure, I'd expect at a minimum NFPA 110 Class 24, level 2 [generac.com] compliance (24 hours run-time be

    • by Culture20 (968837)
      Beyond the car-chargers, a lot of cell phones are USB powered. A laptop battery can charge a cell phone quite a few times as long as there's no actual computing being done.
  • by rickb928 (945187) on Monday December 29, 2008 @01:26PM (#26259299) Homepage Journal

    And neither are technology problems.

    In 1998 Maine suffered the worst ice storm in decades. Power, telephone, and cellular service were affected. Yes, cable TV also.

    In Gray, Maine, I was without power for 11 days. My sister in Searsport was without for 17 days, 2 of which were unnecessary - her house was about a quarter-mile in the woods, and the crews missed her line. She had power restored a few hours after calling in and reporting she was still out, and could see lights on at neighbors' houses. Darn.

    Among the events that would inform the Midwest utilities:

    1. Bangor Hydro-Electric, serving North-Central and Downeast Maine reported virtually 100% loss of transmission lines and 100% of customers affected. Central Maine Power reported most customers affected north of Portland, and most transmission lines down. Both utilities reported to major customers that restoration would take weeks, and they pretty much beat thet estimate. Not bad for rebuilding either 70% or 100% of their transmission network. BHE in particular had to replace completely many miles of hi-v transmission line, with poles snapped off. Availability of basic equipment like insulators became the limiting factor. In light of this, customers such as Verizon and cell carriers were told they were genuinely SOL.

    2. The Verizon maintenance supervisor for the state had just relocated from Cape Cod, where he survived a similar event a year earlier. He immediately commandeered all generators, battery packs for SLCs etc, and emergency equipment from Mass, lower NY state, and beyond. Upstate NY was also affected and could spare nothing. His actions permitted his team to keep swapping the batteries out of SLCs, recharging them, and swapping to keep basic phone service running. He also asked for and got fuel from the Maine National Guard to keep the trucks and generators running. Most gas stations were down for lack of power.

    3. As is the nature of winter storms, power lines suffer the most because they are highest on the poles. Telephone is next, and cable TV is usually lowest and suffers the least. Cable companies didn't bother much for restoration, since TV is the luxury you give up when the generator needs more gas than you have. Thankfully, this also meant most telephone service survived, and all they had to do was keep their gensets running. 'That's All'... It was a massive effort.

    4. Cell service then was TDMA and CDMA, and NAMPS. It was good, despite the problems of the carriers having to do their own bucket-brigade battery swapping. They did terrically.

    5. From my observations, quick action by carriers to put plans into action, clever thinking, and looking beyond the usual boundaries of support saved the day.

    6. And one saving grace - the NBC affiliate in Portand broadcasts on Channel 6. Audio was available on most FM radios, way down on the band. When HD kicks in, this will be lost. No replacement I see.

    It appears that AT&T is caught here with a central switch/datacenter that is stranded. We'll dissect their planning, no doubt, but ultimately they needed to plan for a week of power failure. I know that sounds preposterous, but my hospital clients at the time were even parking water trucks in the lot in case power outages resulted in public water supplies failing. Diesel tankers also came in. One hospital had backup privileges with a sister facility in Pennsylvania, and we would have transferred back-office processing there and flown/driven key personnel for a week to keep paychecks, billing, and patient care data current. Fortunately, my old stomping grounds were no longer my business. That hospital was out for 5 days, and ended up with a National Guard generator on site. The Guardsmen went without power for their armory to do that, sleeping in trucks and tents. Fortunately, it was not that cold for January. If it was 10 degrees colder, a lot of people would have died, never ready for that sort of trouble.

    I escaped to friends in New Hampshire. Yes, I'm a wuss.

    AT&T should own up to bad planning, despite the unusual weather. Redundancy is crucial, expensive, and worth it.

    • That recent storm was hard to really get my head around. Places 20 miles outside of BOSTON were without power for a week.
  • Never had a call drop? Never been someplace where there is "no network"? Never had a conversation that you simply couldn't understand because of the "stacked" aggressive compression? C'mon! Thanks to the wireless companies, people have lower standards now, in terms of audio quality, reliability and availability. I used to work for Jabra years ago, before they had any market share and weren't really sure what direction to take. I was brought on to improve audio quality for various products. One was the sma
  • Wow. I knew there was a lot of buzz about the new Blackberry [vzwshop.com], but I didn't think it'd be enough to move all of AT&T's Midwest customers to Verizon. :-)

  • In case some are from warmer climes and don't know what the fuss with ice storms is all about, here are a couple of damage scenes for your perusal. Basically, ice builds up on all external surfaces of a structure until either (a) the weight of the ice causes the structure to collapse, or (b) the surface area of the structure is increased to the point that the wind in the storm blows the structure over.

    This is the KC1XX amateur radio contest station [me.com] in Mason, New Hampshire, after the storm. More than 1.5 i

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