On Thursday April 9th, Internet, cell phone, and land-line phone service were all out of service for customers in parts of Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties. Even 911 calls weren’t going through. The culprit was a gang of rogues that cut 10 AT&T fiber optic cables in 4 different locations. The SF Chronicle reports that:
Sabotage attacks knock out phone service
The San Jose Mercury weighs in with an article asking:
South Valley phone outage: Is telecom system too vulnerable?
"Some of the questions that come up are whether the system has adequate backup capabilities and whether or not the phone companies are adequately protecting and maintaining the equipment they do have," said Mindy Spatt, spokeswoman for The Utility Reform Network, a consumer watchdog group in San Francisco.
The loss of landline, cell phone and Internet service in parts of southern Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties, as well as areas of San Benito County, was amplified by the fact that multiple carriers were sending traffic on the same fiber-optic cables, which are owned by AT&T.
For example, Verizon said more than 50,000 household landlines were affected as well as an unknown number of cell phone connections.
Cell phones function like miniature radios, communicating with cell phone towers via radio waves. The towers, in turn, communicate with a switching station either over cable or through microwaves.
"If the switch is not working, you are out of business," said Ken Fattlar, a Verizon engineer. Fattlar said the cell towers in the South Bay are connected to copper cables that feed into AT&T’s fiber lines. When the lines were damaged, the cell towers were not able to communicate with their switching station and could not transfer calls.
Opinion- Why no early fault detection, cable redundancy and automatic switchover (to another fiber optic cable) when the primary cable was cut?
"Backhoes cut cables all the time," said Bruce Schneier, author of "Schneier on Security," and "Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World." "Trees cut cables all the time." Why didn’t AT&T take care to automatically detect the broken cable and switch traffic to an alternate route?
If the previously announced (CLEAR) WiMAX services (Internet and VoIP) were operational in Silicon Valley, it likely would not have been effected, as Clearwire uses microwave backhaul (DragonWave equipment) to reach the ISP or IXC POPs.
So, there is yet another reason to root for WiMAX success- break the monopoly that AT&T and VZ have on U.S. telecommunications by offering customers an alternate path to the Internet and long distance telephony. Additionally, WiMAX could be used as an Internet access backup by corporations needing high availability and reliabilty.