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Vandalism in US state shows the Internet’s vulnerability

February 26, 2015

FLAGSTAFF, Arizona (AP) — Computers and phones in Arizona were knocked out of service, cash machines stopped working and emergency call systems were disrupted — all because a vandal apparently sliced through a fiber-optic Internet cable buried under the rocky desert.

The hours-long Internet outage did more than underscore just how dependent modern society has become on high technology. It raised questions about the vulnerability of Internet infrastructure in the U.S.

Alex Juarez, a spokesman for Internet service provider CenturyLink, said the problem was first reported around noon Wednesday, and complaints immediately began to pour in from customers across northern Arizona.

Businesses were unable to process credit card transactions.

Internet and phone service started to come back to some residents and businesses in Flagstaff by 6:30 p.m. and was fully restored by about 3 a.m.

CenturyLink blamed vandalism, and police are investigating.

The severed CenturyLink-owned cable is near a riverbed in a rocky stretch of desert that isn’t easily accessible to vehicles. It carries signals for various cellphone, TV and Internet providers that serve northern Arizona.

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. He said the damage was estimated at $6,000.

CenturyLink gave no estimate on 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 that allow data to be rerouted if a cable is cut or damaged. But that was not the case here, said Mark Goldstein, secretary for the Arizona Telecommunications and Information Council.

The challenge in Arizona, he said, is that large swaths of the outage area are a mishmash of federal lands under the control of different agencies.

Zak Holland, who works at a computer store at Northern Arizona University, said distraught students were nearly in tears when he said nothing could be done to restore their Internet connection.

“It just goes to show how dependent we are on the Internet when it disappears,” he said.


Associated Press writer Terry Tang in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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