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If T-Mobile’s giant outage affected you, now’s your chance to tell the FCC

Enlarge / A pigeon rests on a T-Mobile logo outside a mobile phone store, operated by Deutsche Telekom AG, in Munich, Germany, on Monday, Feb. 6, 2017.

Getty Images | Bloomberg

The Federal Communications Commission is kicking off its investigation of last week’s T-Mobile outage by seeking public comment. Government agencies, public safety entities, businesses, and individuals are encouraged to submit comments about their experiences during the 13-hour outage.

“We seek comment on the impact of these outages from the perspective of affected public safety entities, as well as state and local governments,” the FCC said in a public notice today. “Are there estimates of how many calls, including 911 calls, failed or otherwise affected by the outage? What was the effect of the outage on public safety activities and government services across the country? Was there a disruption of data services relied on by public safety entities and state and local governments?”

The outage “prevented customers from making calls, receiving calls, and in some cases, sending text messages over T-Mobile’s Voice-over LTE (VoLTE) network,” and social media reports indicated that 911 calling was affected, the FCC notice said. Besides government and public safety organizations, the FCC is seeking comment on “this outage’s impact from the perspective of affected individual and enterprise consumers.”

The public notice asks these questions of businesses and individuals:

How did consumers learn about the outage? Was T-Mobile’s communication about the outage appropriate, timely, and effective? Were consumers of T-Mobile’s network able to successfully make or receive all calls, some calls, or no calls at all? Were consumers of other communications service providers able to successfully complete calls to consumers of T-Mobile’s network? Were consumers’ text messages successfully sent or received during the outage? Did consumers on T-Mobile’s network experience a disruption of data services during the outage? Were consumers able to use alternative measures, such as “FaceTime, iMessage, Google Meet, Google Duo, Zoom, Skype and others to connect” during the outage, and was that method of communication successful and effective? What effect did the outage have on businesses and providers of critical services, such as hospitals? What effect did the outage have on consumers’ personal activities?

The FCC set a deadline of July 8 for submitting comments. The docket where comments can be filed online is available here. Read the public notice for instructions on how to submit comments by mail.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the outage “unacceptable” and said the FCC will be “demanding answers,” as we reported last week. That doesn’t mean T-Mobile will face any punishment. In a previous case, Pai called mobile carriers’ response to Hurricane Michael in Florida “completely unacceptable,” but imposed no punishment.

T-Mobile’s explanation of last week’s network failure said “the trigger event is known to be a leased fiber circuit failure from a third-party provider in the Southeast.” Mobile networks are designed to survive such failures, but in this case T-Mobile said its network “redundancy failed us and resulted in an overload situation that was then compounded by other factors.” The overload then caused an “IP traffic storm that spread from the Southeast to create significant capacity issues across the IMS (IP multimedia Subsystem) core network that supports VoLTE calls.” To prevent recurrences, T-Mobile said it has “worked with our IMS and IP vendors to add permanent additional safeguards to prevent this from happening again and we’re continuing to work on determining the cause of the initial overload failure.”

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