Internet, cell phone outages impact thousands in Big Bend region

The Sentinel and International staff

FAR WEST TEXAS – Area residents experienced a day-long outage of cell phone and internet service on the AT&T network on Sunday, September 16, potentially impacting thousands of customers.

The service interruption lasted over nine hours and included disruption of 911 services in Fort Stockton and Winkler County.

It was cash only in many Alpine, Marfa, and Fort Davis stores and shops and restaurants, even atop Mount Locke in the Davis Mountains at the McDonald Observatory gift shot. Presidio was less affected, sources said. According to an AT&T spokesperson, the outage was caused when “a fiber line was cut by another company.” Similar outages have impacted the area multiple times in the past and as recently as January of this year.

Fort Stockton Chief of Police Ryan Skelton said this week he was informed the outage originated near Monahans, when the single source fiber optic line bringing service to the area was severed by a utility company.

Because the Fort Stockton 911 dispatch relies on the AT&T network, they were forced to use a cell phone from a separate service provider to receive 911 calls, which can result in delays in fielding the calls.

The AT&T service interruption also brought down services for Mountain Zone Broadband and interrupted limited analog service for Big Bend Telephone (BBT). However, BBT was not significantly impacted because they provide their own network and do not rely on the AT&T for the majority of their services.

Heath Chambers, Vice President of Plant Operations at Big Bend Telephone Company, said they have worked to build redundancies into their system that help to avoid the issue of wide-spread service interruptions due to one incident.

Although there are regulations through the Public Utilities Commission of Texas (PUC) that require standards for internet connectivity in rural areas, at this time there are no requirements for implementing redundancies for network designs in order to avoid these types of outages.

The office of Far West Texas state Senator José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, stated they are “researching the issue and if appropriate will prepare legislation for the next session.”