Vandalism in Arizona Shows the Internet’s Vulnerability

Computers, cellphones and landlines in Arizona were knocked out of service for hours, ATMs stopped working, 911 systems were disrupted and businesses were unable to process credit card transactions -- all because vandals sliced through a fiber-optic Internet cable buried in the rocky desert.

The Internet outage did more than underscore just how dependent modern society has become on high technology. It raised questions about the vulnerability of the nation's Internet infrastructure.

Alex Juarez, a spokesman for Internet service provider CenturyLink, said the problem was first reported around noon Wednesday, with customer complaints pouring in from an area extending from the northern edges of Phoenix to cities like Flagstaff, Prescott, Page and Sedona. Service began coming back within a few hours and was reported fully restored by about 3 a.m. Thursday.

CenturyLink blamed vandalism, and police are investigating.

The severed CenturyLink-owned cable -- actually, a set of cables bundled together in a black conduit a few inches in diameter -- was buried several feet under the rocky soil in a dry wash, about a quarter-mile from the nearest houses.

Investigators believe the vandals were looking for copper wire -- which can fetch high prices as scrap -- but didn't find any after cutting all the way through the cable, probably with power tools, Phoenix police spokesman Officer James Holmes said.

"Your average house saw and wire cutters wouldn't do it," Holmes said. He said the damage was estimated at $6,000.

As the outage spread, CenturyLink technicians began the long, tedious process of inspecting the line mile by mile. They eventually located the cut in the cable and spliced it back together.

CenturyLink gave no estimate of how many people were affected, but the outage was far-reaching because other cellphone, TV and Internet providers use the cable, too, under leasing arrangements with the company.

Such networks often have built-in redundancies...

Comments are closed.