ATT Offers $100,000 Reward for Conviction of Bay Area Telecom Vandals

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2009-04-09

REDWOOD CITY, Calif.-AT&T has pledged a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of vandals who cut underground fiber-optic telephone and Internet cable lines April 9. The felony vandalism disrupted service to tens of thousands of people in five Northern California counties.

Portions of the city and county of San Francisco and the counties of San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and San Benito, where a number of IT companies are located, were affected.

AT&T, Verizon and Sprint Nextel land-line, cellular and Internet service was down in those areas beginning at about 2 a.m. April 9, when four underground fiber-optic cables belonging to AT&T and Verizon were cut. The cables were located 10 feet down a manhole.

Both the Verizon and Sprint wireless services rely on the AT&T lines to carry their phone traffic back to their networks.  

In San Carlos, about 25 miles north of the south San Jose vandalism site, lines belonging to Sprint and Verizon were disabled at about 3:30 a.m. PDT, a San Carlos police spokesperson said. However, no reports of telecom outages were reported to City Hall in neighboring Redwood City, city spokesperson Malcolm Smith told eWEEK.

The Santa Clara County Office of Emergency Services said the outage killed cell phones and Internet access and about 52,000 Verizon household land lines in south Santa Clara County and Santa Cruz County for the entire day.

Calls by eWEEK to the land lines of several corporate offices of IT companies, including IBM, Apple and Hewlett-Packard in Cupertino, were met with a recorded phone company message: "Your call cannot be completed as entered. Please try the number again." Other calls elicited a fast busy signal or nothing at all.

AT&T said at about 3:30 p.m. on its Twitter news site, "We anticipate some service restoration will begin in next few hours, with repair and rerouting efforts continuing this afternoon." Later in the day the company said it expected all lines to be reconnected and operational by about 9 p.m.

The telecom company announced the $100,000 reward via the same news outlet at about 2:45 p.m. AT&T asked people with information on the crimes to call (408) 947-STOP.

John Britton, a spokesperson for AT&T, told the San Francisco Chronicle, "Clearly, we have some vandalism. Someone purposefully and deliberately cut the wires."

Britton told the newspaper that the four cables that were cut in San Jose were about the width of a silver dollar and were encased in tough plastic sheath. In both instances, Britton said, saboteurs must have been equipped with heavy-duty cutting equipment to slice through the thick cable coating.

It is possible that the vandalism is connected with a labor dispute, although there was no confirmation of this by Bay Area authorities on April 9.  About 110,000 AT&T workers nationwide have considered going on strike, according to, a news site for the telecommunications industry.

Five regional union contracts expired on Sunday, April 5. A sixth that expires a few months later is being negotiated at the same time, the site reported.

The major disagreement between AT&T and the Communications Workers of America has been increased health-care costs.

Editor's note: This story was updated to include information about the possible strike and to correct the dates.



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