AT&T restores cellular service to all customers to after nationwide outage

AT&T cellular service has been restored after a nationwide outage Thursday morning affected tens of thousands of Americans.

At the peak, the outage tracking website Downdetector counted more than 70,000 AT&T outage reports in locations including Houston, Atlanta and Chicago. Hundreds of users also reported outages in Milwaukee.

An AT&T store in Pittsburgh, Pa., Tuesday, April 14, 2020.
An AT&T store in Pittsburgh, Pa., Tuesday, April 14, 2020.

"We have restored wireless service to all our affected customers. We sincerely apologize to them. Keeping our customers connected remains our top priority, and we are taking steps to ensure our customers do not experience this again in the future," AT&T said in a statement.

Users of other service providers also reported outages to Downdetector. Cricket Wireless had more than 13,000, Verizon had more than 4,000 outages and T-Mobile had more than 2,000 outages at the peak.

"Verizon's network is operating normally. Some customers experienced issues this morning when calling or texting with customers served by another carrier," a Verizon spokesperson told USA TODAY. "We are continuing to monitor the situation."

T-Mobile said that it did not experience an outage.

“Our network is operating normally. Down Detector is likely reflecting challenges our customers were having attempting to connect to users on other networks,” T-Mobile said.

So far, no reason has been given for the outages.

More: Tens of thousands report AT&T service outage; Verizon and T-Mobile users also claim issues

Many rural residents, workers depend on cell service

For people in rural areas, especially, cellphones are a lifeline.

“If you’re having a heart attack and need wireless service to call an ambulance, it’s literally a life and death issue,” said Christopher Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self Reliance, a Minneapolis nonprofit.

“Maybe there’s a reason some of us old people have kept our landlines,” said Barry Orton, telecommunications professor emeritus at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

But for people working from the road, such as truck drivers making deliveries, a cellphone is an essential tool. Many other businesses depend on mobile communication as well.

“We will see how vulnerable our systems are,” Orton said.

Landlines have been disappearing for many years. Once a homeowner drops the service, it’s not likely to be eligible for restoration by the service provider.

Up until around the mid-1990s, the U.S. had a heavily regulated telephone industry which insisted on reliable service, according to Mitchell.

“The telephone system was ensured to work 99.999% of the time, which meant only a few hours of outages of a year,” he said.

That’s no longer the case with a deregulated system, largely dependent on mobile phones.

“In a competitive (deregulated) environment, it’s not clear what levers the government has to require reliability,” Mitchell said. “This is the sort of thing I would hope the FCC is taking seriously now.”

SOS symbol showing up for some AT&T users on iPhone

An SOS symbol appeared on the screens of iPhone users with AT&T where cell service bars are normally shown.

An SOS symbol on your phone means there is a cellular network "available for emergency calls," Apple's support website states.

"When you make a call with SOS, your iPhone automatically calls the local emergency number and shares your location information with emergency services," according to Apple. "In some countries and regions, you might need to choose the service that you need.

After making an emergency call, your iPhone alerts any emergency contacts designated in your phone.

Apple says all iPhone models 14 or later can also use Emergency SOS via satellite to text emergency services when no cellular and Wi-Fi coverage is available.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Nationwide AT&T, Verizon outages affecting cell service in Wisconsin