What triggered Thursday’s Verizon outages across the region?

Published 1:36 am Friday, February 3, 2023

For eight hours on Thursday, Verizon phones didn’t work in Prince Edward County. Verizon outages also happened to Cumberland, Charlotte, Lunenburg and Nottoway customers, who were all trying to figure out why things were malfunctioning. And while the answer seems simple, there are still unanswered questions a day later. 

The Herald reached out to Verizon officials Thursday morning, after the outages started. They said the outages, which stretched down to Southwest Virginia, came as the result of a fiber line being cut. 

“A fiber cut has led to an interruption in service for some customers in your area,” said Steve Van Dinter at the time. He works as Director of Local Area Communications for Verizon. 

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At the time, just after midday on Thursday, Van Dinter said engineers were en route to fix the fiber and restore service. Part of the reason it took so long was because when a fiber line is cut, it’s not as simple as digging up the one line and replacing it. It depends on how many fibers the cable line has. You have to determine where the break is and if pieces of the fiber are frayed further up the line, beyond just the one break point. 

The question comes about where exactly this line was cut. And exactly how many lines were cut, as the outages grew by Thursday afternoon to include places in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, as well as Central, Southside and Southwest Virginia. 

When reached for an update early Friday morning, Van Dinter said there were in fact two issues that caused Thursday’s outages.

“There was a fiber cut in the Erie (Pennsylvania) area yesterday morning and one in the Roanoke (Virginia) area yesterday as well,” Van Dinter said.

However, Van Dinter still couldn’t say what actually led to the problem. 

“The cause is still being determined,” Van Dinter said.

There had been claims on social media of Verizon towers being down in other states on Thursday, but as of Friday morning, there’s no evidence backing that up or confirmation from Verizon. Van Dinter said just the two fiber cuts led to the outages.

Customers asked to use wifi calling

As of 6:48 p.m. Thursday, all the fiber had been repaired and phones were working like normal. Thursday’s incident also highlighted some important precautions to take, in case something like this happens again. 

The biggest thing Verizon customers were asked to do is make sure wifi calling was enabled on their phones. That way, even if someone’s Verizon service is down, they’ll be able to make and receive calls if they have access to a wifi network. 

 Voice calling on a wifi network uses about 1 to 5 megabytes of data. If you want to try a video call, that ranges from 6 to 30 megabytes of use per minute. But here’s the important part. You have to stay connected to the network during the call. As long as you do that,  the call won’t count against your mobile plan’s data allowance, Van Dinter said. But if you move around, if you try a wifi call and step out of the network’s range, it’ll either be dropped or you’ll be charged. 

Also, there will be times during the repair when service comes back on, only to go off minutes later. That’s normal during work like this, Verizon officials say.

The second thing that came out of this was information about “SOS”. You may see “SOS” on the top right section of your Verizon phone. That means you have the ability to make emergency calls and dial 911, despite Verizon’s network being down. However, Farmville police ask you not to give up if they don’t immediately answer.

“If you cannot get to wifi and have an emergency, keep trying to call and it may come through,” the department said in a statement. “Stay on the line because we may not be able to call you back.”

Verizon outages due to lines being cut

Now when it comes to lines being cut, that’s something Prince Edward County has been dealing with for several months. The difference is typically a utility line is cut by workers attempting to plow the ground and lay fiber-optic cables for high-speed broadband internet. In this case, it involved an existing fiber-optic cable being damaged. 

In Virginia, it’s up to the owners of the lines to make sure they’re properly marked. If not, it’s easy for work crews to miss and accidentally tear them up while digging. Back in January, fiber buyer GAC Enterprises told The Herald it had a team documenting all hits of the lines. That team found the majority of hits occur due to inaccurate markers.