AT&T's hours-long, nationwide outage took down its FirstNet communications platform in several cities across the US. No details have surfaced yet, but a few first responders aren't happy.

Phil Harvey, Editor-in-Chief

February 22, 2024

2 Min Read
AT&T Whitacre Tower office building
(Source: AT&T)

AT&T is still working to fix and diagnose a nationwide network outage affecting consumers and FirstNet, the broadband network it built for first responders.

FirstNet said its service has been restored, but won't comment on the length, severity or cost of the outage.

"The First Responder Network Authority is aware of wireless service outages experienced this morning," a FirstNet Authority spokesman told Light Reading via email. "Our nationwide network contractor, AT&T, took immediate action to prioritize restoration for public safety users of FirstNet and has confirmed service is currently running normally across the FirstNet network.

"The FirstNet Authority will work with AT&T to conduct an assessment of the outage."

The First Responders Network Authority (FirstNet) is a US government agency charged with offering a nationwide wireless network to public safety agencies, from police to firefighters. AT&T operates the FirstNet network via FirstNet's Band 14 700MHz spectrum.

As reported earlier this month by Light Reading, FirstNet's investment budget for 2024 is $547 million, double last year's total. The government agency said it will allocate a portion of that spending to advanced 5G services that officials say will make FirstNet's service faster and more capable.

Related:AT&T's outage twists up its MWC story

The outage is already getting regulatory attention. "We are aware of the reported wireless outages, and our Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau is actively investigating," an FCC spokesman told Light Reading via email. "We are in touch with AT&T and public safety authorities, including FirstNet, as well as other providers."

First responders frustrated

Before the service fix, hours of frustration were piling up for firefighters, police and all the agencies that use AT&T's dedicated communications platform.

"We are aware of an issue impacting AT&T wireless customers from making and receiving any phone calls (including to 911)," according to a post from the San Francisco Fire Department's account on X (formerly Twitter).

View post on Twitter

In Naperville, Illinois, a similar message was posted hours later. This warning referenced Verizon, which is not currently having a network issue. However, when Verizon users called and couldn't connect with AT&T customers, that convinced some that more networks were affected.

View post on Twitter

AT&T and FirstNet urged customers to use Wi-Fi calling while the outage was ongoing. There wasn't much they could do for FirstNet users who did not have a Wi-Fi calling option.

View post on Twitter

The FirstNet contract is, presumably, a cash cow for AT&T, but the carrier has declined to discuss how much revenue and profit that network contributes to its bottom line.

Related:FirstNet pledges further investments into 5G

About the Author(s)

Phil Harvey

Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

Phil Harvey has been a Light Reading writer and editor for more than 18 years combined. He began his second tour as the site's chief editor in April 2020.

His interest in speed and scale means he often covers optical networking and the foundational technologies powering the modern Internet.

Harvey covered networking, Internet infrastructure and dot-com mania in the late 90s for Silicon Valley magazines like UPSIDE and Red Herring before joining Light Reading (for the first time) in late 2000.

After moving to the Republic of Texas, Harvey spent eight years as a contributing tech writer for D CEO magazine, producing columns about tech advances in everything from supercomputing to cellphone recycling.

Harvey is an avid photographer and camera collector – if you accept that compulsive shopping and "collecting" are the same.

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