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AT&T says ice on equipment cut power to some area customers

January 6, 2018 GMT

AT&T said its Madison area customers are back in service after outages lasting several days or longer that the telecommunications company blames on frigid temperatures.

“All services are restored and operating normally at this time,” AT&T spokesman Jim Kimberly said Friday.

Some customers have said their AT&T service was out of commission for nearly a week. But a telecom expert said those affected have little recourse.

“AT&T no longer has to report its reliability, outages, quality of service to anybody,” said Barry Orton, UW-Madison telecommunications professor emeritus. After deregulation on the state and federal levels, “the only people they answer to are stockholders and customers,” he said. “They can complain to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) and waste a perfectly good postage stamp.”

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AT&T’s Kimberly declined to provide specific information on how many customers were affected, which parts of the Madison area were hit, and how long the outages lasted.

“This was not an outage in the traditional sense, these were issues caused by cold weather affecting some hardware at the local/street level,” Kimberly said. He said they left “very small groups of customers in various areas” without AT&T U-verse television, internet or internet-based phone service.

Based on emails the Wisconsin State Journal received and messages on the website downdetector.com, there may have been two rounds of outages, some in West Side neighborhoods.

Carroll Heideman told the State Journal she lost AT&T telephone, TV and internet service on Dec. 26 or earlier, and it took until Dec. 29 before they were back in operation.

Mark Henrichs said his telecom services went out on Dec. 29 and were not restored until Jan. 4.

Henrichs, who runs an architecture and furniture design business from his West Side home, said he had to go to a coffee shop and a library branch to send email.

Losing internet, TV and landline phone services for that long “didn’t send me into bankruptcy,” Henrichs said, but did “slow things down.”

Henrichs said he was also frustrated that various AT&T representatives he spoke to gave him differing explanations for the loss of service. One hinted at a massive outage centered in northern Illinois; another blamed it on a hardware problem and said replacement parts had to be ordered.

AT&T’s Kimberly said the problems were caused by “severe temperatures which led to ice on some equipment.” He said AT&T crews “worked around the clock to restore services as quickly as possible.”

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As of Friday evening, many of the outages posted on downdetector.com were from Ohio, but the website listed Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago among the cities from which the largest numbers of recent reports came.

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission used to have some authority over telecom companies, but in 2011, the Legislature passed a bill repealing state statutes that required the companies to provide reasonable and adequate service at fair prices, and removing the PSC’s jurisdiction over telecom complaints.

The state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection does take telecom complaints, and has received three against AT&T so far in 2018, spokesman Jerad Albracht said, but he could not provide information on what they were about. He said DATCP regulates telecom billing but not service issues.

AT&T’s Kimberly said customers with concerns about their bills should call AT&T’s customer service line at (800)-331-0500.

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