CenturyLink Outage: Facts and Fallacies

Estimated read time 16 min read

When the CenturyLink outage struck, panic ensued as people nationwide found themselves disconnected. For over 36 hours, millions of customers lost access to the internet, landline phones, and cable TV. As services slowly come back online, rumors and speculation have spread like wildfire. Before reacting, it’s important to understand the facts of what occurred and what is still unknown. While the outage has been deeply inconvenient and frustrating, the reality is far more nuanced than the frenzied social media reactions might suggest. Staying informed and maintaining perspective will help ensure this disruption results in constructive improvements rather than lasting damage. Though you may feel powerless in the aftermath of this outage, your voice and choices as a customer still matter.

On December 27th, 2018, CenturyLink experienced a massive nationwide outage that disrupted phone and internet services for millions of customers. The outage lasted over 36 hours in some areas. What exactly happened to cause such a prolonged loss of connectivity?

First, CenturyLink confirmed that the outage was the result of an equipment failure in their network, though the specific piece of equipment responsible has not been disclosed. Failures of critical network infrastructure components are often complex to diagnose and resolve.

Second, the outage impacted CenturyLink’s transport and IP networks, which are responsible for routing internet and voice traffic. With these networks down, many of their services like landline phones, mobile data, and broadband internet were inaccessible to customers. Services in many western states as well as parts of Missouri and Wyoming were affected.

Finally, restoring networks of this scale is an intricate process that requires methodical troubleshooting and re-routing to bring all components back online without causing further issues. While frustrating for those impacted, resolving network outages often takes time to complete comprehensively.

The CenturyLink outage highlights some realities of our increasing connectivity and reliance on telecommunications companies. When major providers experience failures, the effects can be widespread. At the same time, the complexity of modern networks means outages are often difficult to predict or quickly fix. While CenturyLink has taken responsibility for the event and is working to prevent similar issues going forward, some amount of network instability may be unavoidable. Overall, the most recent outage serves as an important reminder about the fragility of the systems we all depend on each and every day.

The scale of CenturyLink’s network outage on December 27, 2020, was immense, impacting customers across the United States. According to CenturyLink, the failure occurred within their IP network, which provides internet connectivity and related services to consumer and business customers.

This IP network is made up of equipment like routers and switches which direct traffic between CenturyLink’s central offices and data centers across the U.S. When a card within a routing platform failed, it corrupted the memory in adjacent cards, causing a cascading effect that impacted multiple routing platforms. This failure within their network fabric resulted in the disruption of all services running on the impacted platforms.

The outage impacted 911 emergency call centers, residential internet users, and businesses of all sizes, demonstrating the far-reaching effects of failures within provider networks. While CenturyLink reported service restoration within a day for most customers, the impacts were felt for days and even weeks after by some of their larger enterprise and government clients.

Restoring networks and services at this massive scale is an immense undertaking, often requiring manual reconfiguration of equipment and services. The complexity of CenturyLink’s IP network, with all of its interdependencies, made this restoration process difficult and time-consuming despite best efforts. Still, questions remain about how a single hardware failure could cascade into such a broad outage and why redundant systems did not prevent disruption.

Providers must build resilience into their networks to avoid potentially life-threatening outages. As our world becomes increasingly connected, the stability of underlying network infrastructure is critical. This event highlighted weaknesses in current network architectures and the need for significant improvements to prevent future wide-scale disruptions. While unforeseen equipment failures will always remain a possibility, we must demand networks with safeguards and redundancies to mitigate their impact. Our connectivity depends on it.

The CenturyLink outage that occurred on December 27, 2018, was caused by a faulty network management card in a central office in New York that corrupted the companyโ€™s management plan and prevented technicians from remotely accessing, monitoring, or controlling critical network equipment.

Software Glitch

According to CenturyLink, the network management cardโ€”essentially a computer within a larger telecommunications systemโ€”malfunctioned due to a software glitch. This single point of failure disrupted internet and telecommunications service for millions of customers across the U.S. for over 30 hours.

Lack of Redundancy

CenturyLinkโ€™s network did not have enough redundancy built-in to prevent such widespread outages from a single hardware failure. Their network management system and the monitoring platforms were not sufficiently backed up or mirrored to sustain operations if one component went down. This lack of redundancy and disaster recovery planning ultimately caused the massive outage.

Delayed Response

Because technicians could not access the network remotely to determine the cause of the problem or restore service, it took nearly two days for crews to physically locate the faulty network card in the central office and replace it. The delayed response time resulted in a prolonged loss of service for customers and underscores the need for improved network monitoring, redundancy, and crisis management procedures.

In the aftermath of this sizable outage, CenturyLink stated that they have learned from their mistakes and are working to build more redundancy and automated failover into their systems. They have also re-examined their network management processes and tools to better handle hardware failures and unforeseen software issues going forward. Additional steps will likely include enhancing their network monitoring capabilities, instituting more frequent testing of backup systems, and streamlining response plans to minimize downtime in the event of future outages.

Overall, the CenturyLink outage provides an opportunity for telecommunications companies to apply lessons learned to strengthen network resilience and better serve customers during crisis events. With software and technical complexity increasing, service providers must focus on network reliability and continuity of operations to meet consumer demand for connectivity.

CenturyLink worked to restore service and address customer concerns during the outage. As the scale of the incident became clear, CenturyLink implemented its emergency response procedures to investigate the root cause and restore service.

Response and Resolution Efforts

Once the outage was detected, CenturyLink teams began working to determine the cause and resolve the issue. Additional staff and resources were deployed to help manage the high call volume and respond to customers on social media. However, the complexity and scale of the network issue meant a full restoration of service took over 30 hours for some customers.

CenturyLink provided updates via its website, social media, and direct communications during the outage. They issued apologies for the disruption and inconvenience to customers as service was being restored in phases. Refunds and bill credits were offered to affected residential and business customers.

The company has stated that a faulty network management card was the source of the outage, triggering a cascading failure across systems. CenturyLink executives have pledged to apply lessons learned to continue improving network reliability and emergency response procedures. Independent reviews of the incident are also being conducted to evaluate the companyโ€™s handling of events and identify opportunities for growth.

While the outage caused significant frustration, CenturyLinkโ€™s efforts to restore service as quickly as possible, communicate with transparency, and make amends with customers have helped rebuild trust in their network. Continuous improvement to prevent and mitigate future outages will be key to providing the consistent connectivity that customers expect. Overall, CenturyLinkโ€™s response to this large-scale incident displayed its commitment to customer experience despite the technical challenges involved.

Services Affected: Who Lost Connectivity?

CenturyLinkโ€™s widespread outage affected customers across the country, impacting both consumer and business services. While the full scope and cause of the outage are still under investigation, here is what we know so far about which services were disrupted.

Internet and Wifi

CenturyLink provides internet, ethernet, and wifi services to millions of residential and business customers. Loss of connectivity prevented customers from accessing the internet either directly or through their wifi networks. This cut people off from communicating with others or accessing streaming media, online banking, and shopping.

Phone Service

In addition to internet access, CenturyLink offers landline phone service, VOIP, and cloud-based phone systems to customers. The outage resulted in a loss of phone connectivity for many, including the inability to make or receive calls. Emergency 911 service was also impacted in some areas.

TV

CenturyLinkโ€™s cable and fiber TV service was disrupted for a large number of subscribers. People lost access to live television programming, on-demand content, and DVR recordings for the duration of the outage.

Business Services

CenturyLink business services like ethernet, networking, voice, and IT solutions were also affected by the network event. Many companies experienced a loss of connectivity which hindered operations, transactions, communications, and more. Data centers and cloud services were impacted as well, causing disruptions for other businesses.

While the outage was widespread, not all CenturyLink customers experienced issues or loss of service. Connectivity and services in some areas were left fully functioning or only partially impacted. CenturyLink technicians worked urgently to restore services on a location-by-location basis, with most issues resolved within a few hours. The company continues investigating the root cause of this major network event to take appropriate actions, provide transparency to customers and prevent future recurrences.

The CenturyLink outage on December 27th, 2020 caused widespread internet disruption across the United States. As a major internet service provider, CenturyLinkโ€™s network issues prevented many of its customers from accessing the internet for over 12 hours. The timeline of events highlights how the outage unfolded and CenturyLinkโ€™s response.

Around 12:30 PM CT, CenturyLinkโ€™s network began experiencing technical difficulties that caused internet connectivity problems for customers across the country. The source was later identified as a faulty third-party network management card in CenturyLinkโ€™s network that caused routing issues.

By 2 PM CT, CenturyLink acknowledged the outage on Twitter but did not yet have an estimated time of resolution. They advised customers that technicians were working to assess and address the problem.

At 4 PM CT, CenturyLink provided an update that they were still working to restore services and appreciate customersโ€™ patience. The issue was proving difficult to isolate and resolve.

Finally, just after midnight on December 28th, CenturyLink announced that services had been restored for most customers. However, it would take several more hours for connectivity to be fully reestablished for all customers.

In the following days, CenturyLink released further details about the network issue, taking full responsibility for the outage. They explained the technical source of the problem in their network and vowed to take action to prevent future recurrences, including enhancing network monitoring tools and implementing network architecture changes.

The CenturyLink outage demonstrates how even brief internet disruptions can significantly impact both residential and business customers. ISPs must work to build redundancy and reliability into their networks to minimize the possibility of prolonged outages. Overall, CenturyLinkโ€™s response and follow-up to this event were deemed reasonably prompt and transparent, despite the unacceptable length of disruption. With some customers experiencing connectivity problems for over 12 hours, CenturyLink likely still has more work to do in restoring consumer trust and confidence.

How to Prepare for Potential Future Internet Outages

To prepare for potential future Internet outages from CenturyLink or other providers, there are several steps you can take. Planning ahead will help minimize disruption and frustration if there is another outage.

First, have backup Internet options on hand like a mobile hotspot or wireless modem. Make sure any backup Internet devices are fully charged in case of a power outage accompanying the Internet outage. Have a list of local businesses with free Wi-Fi, like coffee shops, libraries, and coworking spaces.

Second, download any essential tools, documents, or software you may need offline. This includes having hard copies of important files, contact information, maps, and entertainment options like ebooks, podcasts, and playlists. Have both digital and physical backups of critical information.

Third, choose a designated spot to meet up with family or roommates if you get separated during an outage. Pick a location close to home that does not rely on Internet access for communication in case mobile networks become overloaded.

Fourth, keep a well-stocked emergency kit that includes things like a battery-powered radio, flashlights, first aid supplies, non-perishable food, bottled water, and any important medical devices or chargers. Be prepared for outages of all utilities, not just the Internet.

Finally, report any issues with your CenturyLink service to help speed up resolution and get networks back online as soon as possible. Provide details about the specific services that are disrupted at your location. Work with your neighbors and community organizations to identify any widespread outages and get the necessary resources and assistance.

Fifth, limit Internet usage during an outage to essential tasks only. Avoid streaming video, playing online games, or anything data-intensive. Only check email and news sites occasionally for updates about the restoration of service. This will help prevent overloading wireless networks and allow bandwidth for emergency responders and utility companies.

By taking these steps to prepare in advance and limit usage during an actual outage, you can feel more at ease knowing you have the means to remain connected and productive even when the Internet is unavailable. With the right mindset and backup tools in place, Internet outages do not have to be catastrophic events. Staying informed and banding together with others will help get your community through until full service is restored.

What Customers Can Do if Affected by an Outage

If your CenturyLink internet service is experiencing an outage, there are a few steps you can take.

First, check CenturyLinkโ€™s service outage map to determine if there are any reported issues in your area. This map provides updates on outage causes and estimated restoration times. If your location is impacted, continue monitoring the map for updates on repair progress and expected resolution.

Next, reboot your CenturyLink modem and router to refresh the connection and ensure proper functioning. Unplug the power cables for a full 30 seconds, then plug them back in. Allow 5-10 minutes for the equipment to fully restart before testing your connection.

You should also check for any damage to the connection lines running from the utility pole to your home. Physical damage from weather events or wildlife can sometimes cause outages. Report any visible damage to CenturyLink as soon as possible.

If after troubleshooting the issue remains unresolved, contact CenturyLinkโ€™s technical support for further help. Be prepared to provide details about your internet package, account information, and specifics on the outage or connection problems you’re experiencing. The support team may run remote tests on your connection or schedule a technician visit if needed.

As a last resort, you may need to report the outage to the [State Regulatory Commission] that governs CenturyLinkโ€™s operations. Most states require telecom companies to meet minimum service quality standards, including restoration of service within a defined period for reported outages. Filing a complaint with your state commission will prompt an investigation into the cause of the outage and CenturyLinkโ€™s response.

Regular outages can understandably be frustrating. But by systematically troubleshooting the issue, reporting problems to CenturyLink and governing agencies as needed, and following provided updates, you can get your CenturyLink internet service restored as quickly as possible. With patience and persistence, you can get back online.

CenturyLink customers likely have many questions regarding the recent outage. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions and their answers:

The CenturyLink outage on December 28, 2018, was caused by a faulty network management card in CenturyLinkโ€™s transport provider network. This hardware failure disrupted internet service for CenturyLink customers across the United States.

How long did the outage last?

The CenturyLink network outage lasted for over 30 hours, from the early morning of December 28, 2018, until late in the evening on December 29, 2018. Some customers experienced service disruptions for a shorter or longer period of time.

What areas were affected?

The CenturyLink outage impacted customers across the United States, including major cities such as New York, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Denver. However, not all CenturyLink customers were affected, and service was restored at different times depending on location.

What services were disrupted?

The CenturyLink outage caused disruptions to internet, phone, and TV services for residential and business customers. Many customers lost access to the internet, landline phones, and cable television.

What compensation will customers receive?

CenturyLink issued a public apology and will automatically credit one day of service fees for each day a customer was without service during the outage. No further compensation or bill credits were announced.

The best way to check for service outages impacting your CenturyLink account is to visit the CenturyLink Service Status Center. This website provides real-time updates on network issues, estimated resolution times, and affected service areas. You can also check for updates on CenturyLinkโ€™s Twitter and Facebook pages.

To contact CenturyLink Customer Support, you can call 1-800-366-8201 or reach out on Twitter (@CenturyLinkHelp). CenturyLink support teams aim to respond to all customer inquiries in a timely manner, but response times may be delayed significantly during large-scale service outages.

Conclusion

As a CenturyLink customer, you were likely frustrated by the recent nationwide outage. However, it’s important not to get caught up in speculation and rumor. CenturyLink has provided details on the cause of the outage, and there is no evidence it was the result of a malicious attack.

While the loss of service was inconvenient, CenturyLink appears to have worked diligently to restore connectivity as quickly as possible. Going forward, you should remain vigilant about cybersecurity best practices but also maintain a sense of perspective. Technology is complex, and outages are an unfortunate reality. Staying informed with facts will help you respond appropriately during these situations and avoid perpetuating misinformation.

If you continue to experience ongoing issues with your CenturyLink service, follow up directly with their customer support. But for now, with connectivity restored, take a deep breath and carry on. The truth is, this was a temporary inconvenience, not a catastrophe. Your life goes on.

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