ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A phone and Internet outage has been disrupting 911 services across the country since yesterday, and today the FCC says it's launched an investigation. Montana Public Radio's Eric Whitney reports.
ERIC WHITNEY, BYLINE: Louisiana-based CenturyLink announced the outage a little after 8 a.m. yesterday, and people calling 911 and other emergency service numbers started getting messages like this.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We're sorry. Your call did not go through. Will you please try your call again?
WHITNEY: Twenty-four hours later, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai tweeted the CenturyLink outage is completely unacceptable and that the agency was launching an investigation. It's unclear exactly how many people were affected. The website DownDetector said the outage was mostly in Western states, but emergency service providers on both coasts reported disruptions. CenturyLink has offered no details about the nature of the problem beyond saying a network element was impacting customer services. Brian Fontes, CEO of the National Emergency Number Association, says the outage is a reminder that people should have backup plans for emergency communications.
BRIAN FONTES: Do I have another provider for wireless service? Do I know the tentative phone numbers for the police or fire department?
WHITNEY: CenturyLink tweeted that in case of an emergency, customers should use their wireless phones to call 911 or drive to the nearest fire station or emergency facility. That comment drew ridicule on social media. This afternoon, CenturyLink said that in areas where they're the 911 service provider, 911 calls are now completing but that their network is still experiencing service disruptions.
CenturyLink's disruptions also affected Verizon customers in at least two states and knocked ATMs offline in Montana and Idaho. A hospital in Greeley, Colo., reported losing access to electronic medical records. The last time the FCC investigated a 911 outage was last year. It fined AT&T $5.25 million for two nationwide disruptions that lasted for a total of about six hours. For NPR News, I'm Eric Whitney in Missoula.