A six-hour Internet outage that left thousands across northern Arizona without access to the web, cellphones or land lines is now under investigation, with Phoenix police believing an act of vandalism to be the cause.
According to the Guardian, businesses from north of Phoenix to Flagstaff were unable to make credit card transactions, ATMs couldn’t function, weather forecasts went off the air, 911 systems experienced issues, and students at Northern Arizona University were unable to finish their school assignments during the outage.
All of this chaos took place — along with countless other disruptions to everyday life — because of vandals unearthing and severing a fiber-optic cable that had been buried underground.
The brief blackout isn’t just an indicator of our modern-day dependence on the Internet and its servers, which provide vital services across networks both privately and publicly. It was also a frightening display of just how vulnerable our Internet infrastructure really is, according to U.S. News and World Report.
Phoenix police said the fiber-optic cable, which is owned by CenturyLink, had been buried under several feet of rocky soil near a remote riverbed north of Phoenix. The location, about a quarter-mile from the nearest residential area, isn’t easily accessible to vehicles. However, the burial location isn’t necessarily concealed; the trenches dug for these cables leave a noticeable scar on the landscape.
“I could take a couple of shovels, and one or two people, a six-pack of beer, find a place that’s hidden with not much traffic, and I could have a little party,” Joseph Hobbs, a Phoenix-area telecommunications contractor, said. “It would be a trivial task to dig up one of these cables. They’re not guarded, and they’re not protected.”
The vandals were most likely looking for copper wire, which is highly valuable as scrap — yet found none after cutting through the entire cable, investigators said.
Damage done to the fiber-optic cable will cost around $6,000 to repair. While implementing backup networks and monitoring systems that could instantly detect interference with fiber-optic cables would be costly, it would go a long way in reducing the time it takes to restore Internet service after an event like this.