AT&T Offers Bounty for Fiber Vandalism

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Yesterday, two acts of vandalism significantly disrupted telephone and Internet communications in the San Francisco Bar area—someone (or several someones) cut AT&T and Sprint Nextel fiber optic connections in manholes in two locations in San Jose and San Carlos, California. Now, AT&T is offering $100,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible—because it wasn’t just Twitter updates and Facebook posts that got disrupted, but emergency communications and phone service. The outage affected thousands of customers in the San Jose area, and not just customers using AT&T or Sprint services, since other telecommunications providers use the lines for backhaul on their own services.

AT&T noted that following the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, AT&T’s networks were declared National Critical Infrastructures; as such, tampering with them or disrupting the network is a federal crime. Tips can be phoned in to the San Jose Police Department or San Carlos Police Department at 408/277-4161 and 650/802-4423, respective. Anonymous tips on the incident can be made to CrimeStoppers at 408/947-STOP.

According to reports, four AT&T fiber optic cables in San Jose were cut around 1:30 AM PDT on April 9; about two hours later, cables belonging to Sprint Nextel were cut in San Carlos California. Although damage to fiber optic cables isn’t all that rare—due to accidents or construction mishaps—in these cases manhole covers were lifted out and the cables specifically cut.

Industry observers note the incident highlights the relative fragility of many aspects of the United States’ communication infrastructure: someone with a little knowledge and a crowbar can disrupt phone and Internet communications for untold thousands of people in the space of a few minutes. While telecom operators are used to dealing with line failures and are generally equipped to re-route traffic in the even of failures, the vandalism does highlight that re-routing doesn’t always get around problems, and that repairs aren’t always instantaneous.

AT&T and Sprint have worked to restore service; most impacted customers are back online as of this writing.

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