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Network outage ‘a real wake-up call’

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

A widespread outage affecting CenturyLink customers across the country continued for a second day Friday, demonstrating just how dependent people are on internet and cellphone service.

Federal officials and authorities in at least one state said they were launching an investigation into the disruptions, which interrupted emergency service lines in some areas.

“Everything is back up today, but CenturyLink failed on a huge scale” Thursday, Lisa Adkins, chief operating officer of FatPipe ABQ, which offers co-working space Downtown for individuals and startup companies, said Friday. “It seems odd that so much infrastructure went down and they’re still struggling to get it all back up. It’s scary, because people don’t realize just how interconnected everything is until it all goes away.”

CenturyLink throughout the day Friday tweeted messages saying it was working on the issue and had “teams working to restore affected services.” The company has said that the problem involved a “network element,” but it has not provided details, nor has it said how many customers have been without service.

By Friday morning, much of the disruption in New Mexico appeared to be over.

In Albuquerque, the outage Thursday also affected Verizon customers because CenturyLink helps handle wireless network data traffic for Verizon. Verizon spokeswoman Jeannine Brew would not say how many customers the company has in New Mexico, but thousands of New Mexicans were unable to call, text or send emails from their phones.

The extensive impact of the outages demonstrates the vulnerabilities of today’s dependence on connected networks, said John Mierzwa, CEO of CNM Ingenuity Software Labs, which operates at FatPipe.

“It was a real wake-up call,” Mierzwa said. “I’m sure there will be hell to pay in the shakeout from this whole event.”

With more people giving up their landlines for cellphones, many in the Albuquerque area were unable to communicate with relatives, co-workers or others. For some, that inconvenience was exacerbated by a winter storm that barreled into the state late Thursday, forcing cancellation of flights at the Albuquerque International Sunport and causing hazardous driving conditions. Something as simple as catching a ride after a canceled or delayed flight proved difficult, because Lyft and Uber were inaccessible to those without cellphone service.

The outages directly affected FatPipe’s offices, at 200 Broadway NE, because they connect to the internet through CenturyLink, Adkins said.

“Everything was down,” Adkins said. “We couldn’t even buzz people into the building because the alarms and doors are connected to the Internet to be able to unlock the entrance remotely. I’m also on Verizon, and without the wireless connection, even that wasn’t working.”

FatPipe couldn’t reach any CenturyLink technicians throughout the day, despite repeated attempts.

In today’s hyperconnected world, getting suddenly cut off can also be dangerous, said Patricia Knighten, former director for the Economic Development Department’s Science and Technology Office.

When the outages started, Knighten and her husband were driving from Denver to Albuquerque. They stopped in Las Vegas, N.M., just as Thursday’s winter storm was setting in.

“When we got to town, none of the stores had internet, and no one’s phone was working,” Knighten said. “I have AT&T, so I had coverage, but the bottom line is, if you don’t have it, it’s worrisome. People can find themselves in dangerous, emergency situations, and no one has landlines anymore.”

Daniel Porter said the many of the electronic devices in his home run on internet service and went dark because of the outage.

“It’s funny that we have become so technologically advanced that without these services our lives go back to square one without them,” said Porter, interviewed at Little Bear Coffee in Albuquerque. “It’s really apocalyptic to think we could be without these services.”

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said Friday that the service problems were “unacceptable” and that the commission began investigating after reports of people getting busy signals when dialing 911. Authorities in Washington state also said they will open an investigation.

The outage affected emergency calling services from Massachusetts to Texas to Washington state. Although 911 service was interrupted in Albuquerque on Thursday morning, it was restored quickly.

“When an emergency strikes, it’s critical that Americans are able to use 911 to reach those who can help,” Pai said. “The CenturyLink service outage is therefore completely unacceptable, and its breadth and duration are particularly troubling.”

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