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AT&T Customers Hit in Cellphone Outage Will Receive $5 Credit, Company Says

Here’s what you can do to keep your lines open whenever your wireless service is out

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Jenny Kane/AP Photo

AT&T will give affected customers $5 each to compensate for the Feb. 22 cellphone network outage that left many without service for hours.

Tens of thousands of customers across the country will get the $5 credit on their account within two billing cycles, the company said Sunday on its website. The credit does not apply to AT&T Business, prepaid service or Cricket, its low-cost wireless service. Prepaid customers will have options available to them if they were affected although AT&T did not elaborate on what those options might be.

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The outage knocked out cellphone service for thousands of its users across the U.S. starting early in the day before it was restored. Without elaborating, AT&T blamed the incident on an error in coding.

“Based on our initial review, we believe that today’s outage was caused by the application and execution of an incorrect process used as we were expanding our network, not a cyberattack,” the company said later in the day Thursday as service was restored. Federal Communications Commission and FBI spokesmen both said their agencies had contacted AT&T about the outage.

AT&T had nearly 75,000 outages Thursday morning in locations including Dallas, Houston and San Antonio in Texas and also Atlanta, Chicago, Miami and New York City, according to data from Downdetector. The outages began at about 3:30 a.m. ET. The Dallas-based carrier has more than 240 million subscribers, making it the country’s largest.

Cricket Wireless, a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that AT&T owns, reported more than 13,000 outages, according to the outage tracking website.

What you can do during any cell service outage

For cellphone users who don’t have landlines as a backup, the best way to maintain mobile service is to connect your smartphone to your home Wi-Fi or a guest Wi-Fi network if you’re on the go.

Some iPhone users saw SOS messages displayed in the status bar on their cellphones. The message indicates that the device is having trouble connecting to their cellular provider’s network, but it can make emergency calls through other carrier networks, according to Apple Support.

“We encourage the use of Wi-Fi calling until service is restored,” AT&T said Thursday.

Most households with internet service rely on high-speed fiber optic cable, coaxial cable internet from their cable TV providers, or digital subscriber line (DSL) service with copper wires through their telephone companies. All those services use physical wires to connect to the internet.

Newer internet offerings, sometimes called 5G home internet or, more formally, fixed wireless access, come from mobile telephone companies and can be affected when wireless phone service is out.

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Most Americans use mobile phones exclusively

Most U.S. adults have dropped their wired telephone service in favor of cellphones. As of December 2022, more than 7 in 10 adults had cellphone service alone, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s wireless substitution survey.  

About 25 percent of adults had access to both cell service and landlines. A little more than 2 percent used landline wired phone service and 1 percent had no phone service at all.

Older adults are the most likely to retain their landlines, according to the report: 50.5 percent of those 65 and older had landline phones as of December 2022. For those age 45 to 64, the percentage dropped to about 28 percent.

During Thursday’s AT&T outage, Verizon customers reported 4,000 problems and T-Mobile customers had more than 1,900 outages, according to Downdetector. Boost Mobile had about 700 outages.

“Verizon’s network is operating normally. Some customers experienced issues this morning when calling or texting with customers served by another carrier,” Verizon said. Verizon also owns Visible, whose customers did not report problems.

T-Mobile, which also owns Mint, said that it did not experience an outage and that the reports likely reflected challenges that its customers had attempting to connect with users on the affected networks.

This story, originally published Feb. 22, was updated with information about a $5 credit for AT&T customers affected in the outage.

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