Outside plant vandalism is an inside job

29 October 2014 by Steve Blum
bt photo
On the other hand, he might have just noticed that the concrete lid says “fiber”.

Good information regarding fiber optic networks is often hard to come by. Companies that own it – particularly last mile companies like AT&T and Comcast – don’t want customers or competitors picking apart their offerings, either in terms of unbundling network elements from managed service or trying to figure out in advance where gaps in service might be.

One reason reflexively given is security, but time and again events show that if there’s a threat to physical infrastructure, it’s from inside. The latest example is FairPoint Communications, a local exchange carrier in New England, as well as a few other markets around the U.S. Unionised workers there went on strike more than a week ago. Since then the company says vandalism has spiked and points a finger squarely at the strikers

In the nine days since the strike began, FairPoint has investigated eight incidents of vandalism to key components of its infrastructure and outside facilities…For the five years prior to October 17, 2014, the company investigated only one such incident.

“Most of the strikers are exercising their legal right to stop working and to publicize their position, but it is no coincidence that these acts of vandalism are being committed during the strike,” [company spokeswoman Angelynne] Beaudry continued. “It is not enough for strikers to deny that they are vandals. We understand that the vast majority would never vandalize. But it is time to help us stop the vandalism.”

Here on the central coast of California, we’ve had two major fiber cuts, in generally the same area, and both times the damage coincided with labor disputes (although AT&T took its share of the heat too). No direct evidence of a connection, but there’s no reason to think the timing was a coincidence either.

The information isn’t secret. If you want to know where fiber runs, just go out and look. It’s prominently marked, usually in bright orange. But even if it wasn’t, keeping information hidden doesn’t prevent damage. It comes down to the open source proposition: whether it’s infrastructure or software, the more people who know about it and care about it, the more attention will be paid to safety and security.