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Big Internet outages hit the East Coast, causing issues for Verizon, Zoom, Slack, Gmail

Internet outages and slowed services hit many areas of the East Coast just as the work and school day was ramping up Tuesday

Internet outages and slowed services hit many areas of the East Coast just as the work day was ramping up Tuesday. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News)

People across the East Coast were having trouble accessing core Internet services Tuesday morning, just as they were logging on for work and school.

Users reported trouble loading Gmail, Slack and Zoom — apps that have become necessities to keep work-from-home life running smoothly during the coronavirus pandemic. Downdetector, which tracks reports of outages, showed widespread issues with Verizon, Google, Zoom, YouTube, Slack, Amazon Web Services and others Tuesday just before noon.

The issue seemed to be stemming from problems with the Verizon Fios Internet service, though the company did not quickly confirm issues. Verizon’s customer support team said on Twitter on Tuesday that a fiber had been cut in Brooklyn, which could possibly account for some of the issues. The support account on Twitter quickly became inundated with customers asking why their Internet was slow and bumpy.

Internet speeds and access started gradually coming back to normal performance after about an hour of the outages. Many services were back to operating as usual by midafternoon.

Many people took to Twitter to point out issues with their Verizon Fios service. Amazon Web Services’ status page showed its service, which provides computing power to large swaths of the Internet, was experiencing an issue with an external provider. On its status page, it said that it is “investigating connectivity issues with an internet provider, mainly affecting the East Coast of the United States, outside of the AWS Network.” Slack and Google said there were no issues with their own services.

Slack confirmed on its status page that the issues seemed to be isolated to the East Coast. “We’re aware of and monitoring an internet service issue that could impact East Coast users’ internet connection and ability to use Slack,” the notice reads.

Verizon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

It’s tough to know how unusual the cause of the outage was until Verizon releases any information, said Lisa Pierce, vice president of research at Gartner, though she doubt the cut cable in Brooklyn was entirely to blame.

“It doesn’t make any sense that it would cause this big a ripple,” she said.

The outage shows the need for backup plans for businesses and schools relying so heavily on it, Pierce said. It also calls into question whether its time for Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to get more involved about minimum standards for Internet service, she said.

Jessica Rosenworcel, the acting chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, said on Twitter that the agency was working to figure out what was going on with the outage.

“We have seen reports of internet-related outages on the East Coast, making it difficult for people to work remotely and go to school online,” she tweeted.

Internet traffic volume to Verizon dropped by about 12 percent globally during the hour-long outage, according to data from Kentik, a firm that monitors network traffic online. The Internet will never work perfectly 100 percent of the time, Kentik’s director of Internet analysis Doug Madory said.

“Its almost like a living organism that has a hiccup now and then, and the flu sometimes,” he said.

The outage disrupted school districts’ online teaching programs, which have become essential in the past year.

In Northern Virginia, the outages wreaked havoc in online classrooms, bringing the virtual school day to a standstill. In Alexandria City Public Schools, which serves 16,000 and is currently offering online-only instruction, many teachers could not dial into Zoom to lead their Tuesday afternoon classes.

And in Fairfax County Public Schools, whose 186,000 students make it the largest school system in the state, students were unable to log into virtual lessons, according to a tweet from the school division. Like neighboring Alexandria, Fairfax is pursuing 100 percent remote learning.

“FCPS is aware that many people in our region are experiencing internet outages,” the school’s Twitter account wrote. “We will provide updates as we know more.”

Prince William County Public Schools in Virginia tweeted just after noon Tuesday that it is “aware of Internet connection problems with Verizon FIOS impacting students and staff.”

Hannah Natanson contributed to this report.