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Thousands Cut-off After Theft of BT Copper Telecoms Cable in Billingham

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014 (11:32 am) - Score 1,386

Criminals have disrupted the broadband and phone services for at least 5,000 people and businesses in the North East England town of Billingham (Durham), which is home to a total population of 36,000+, after they stole large sections of vital copper telecoms cable from BT’s local network.

The theft itself actually occurred almost two weeks ago on Sunday September 14th (11:20pm), at the junction between Norton Road and Billingham (near Bypass Road), and sadly the damage was so serious that extensive repairs have been required.

In a statement BT said that 1,200 customers have now been reconnected, while the rest may have to wait until the end of this week.

Official BT Statement (19th September 2014)

Cable thieves caused extensive damage to the underground BT network on Sunday night when they cut nine cables in Billingham.

Teams of BT engineers have been working flat out through night and day to repair the damage and services to customers are being steadily restored as the work progresses.

So far, about 1,200 customers are back in service and we will continue to pull out all the stops to complete the work as quickly as possible.

Due to the huge scale of the repair job, we expect the work to continue until the end of next week.

The cable theft occurred at about 11.20pm on Sunday in Norton Road, Billingham. Anybody with any information about the incident can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or through an anonymous online form at www.crimestoppers-uk.org .

Crimestoppers and BTOpenreach have joined forces to offer a reward of up to £1,000 for any information on the thefts that leads to arrests and subsequent successful convictions. Aside from the disruption for local home owners, especially those in need of a phone for emergency service cover, the issue is also affecting trade for local businesses.

In the meantime some residents have been able to get online via Mobile Broadband.

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27 Responses
  1. Avatar adslmax says:

    Copper is always target by theft. If it was FTTH – then it will be no problem! Time to call BT to scrap copper once for all.

    1. Avatar TheFacts says:

      How to fund. The £50B value of the copper?

    2. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      BT’s network does not have £50bn worth of copper in it. This was a ridiculous calculation carried out by Tim Worstall (in The Register) who made two fundamental errors. Firstly he worked it out on the the basis that BT’s stated total cable length was of multiple pairs in a telecoms cable (a sanity check clearly showed that BT’s estimate was the total length of pairs). He then took the weight per unit length of the multi-core cable when another calculation clearly showed about half the weight must be insulation.

      A reasonable estimate revealed the inherent value of the copper less than 10% of his valuation.

      Here’s a simple calculation. Standard telecoms cable is 0.5mm in diameter. That means the cross-sectional area is 0.2 sq mm. That means there’s 400 cubic metres of copper per million kilometres of copper pairs. At almost 9 tonnes per cubic metre, that means about 360 tonnes of copper per million km of pairs. Copper is (currently) about £4,150 per tonne, so that million km of pairs contains copper to the value of about £15m. That makes sense – it means 1km of copper pair contains about £15 of copper. Retail you can buy 6 pair cable at approx £36 per 100m (which is £60 per km-pair). Now if we take a (generous) figure of 10km per line (which would allow for unused pairs), then that means £150 of copper per line. If there are 30m lines in the country, then that gives a total copper valuation of £4.5bn.

      In short, this £50bn valuation is fantasy land and all the journalists (and posters) who keep repeating it without doing a basic sanity check are doing nobody any favours.

      Also, there’s a regulatory issue. BT are allowed to make a (modest) return on the estimated value of the capital employed in the network. If there was really £50bn of copper in it, would probably treble (or more) the estimated capital invested and have a huge effect on wholesale rental prices.

    3. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      nb. here’s a link to the ridiculous Tim Worstall article in the Register with the £50bn figure that has somehow entered folklore. He’s never corrected it (although my calculations appear late on in the comments).


      It also confirms he was working on BT’s network containing 75 million miles (or 120 million km) of cable. If there are 30m lines, that’s abound 4km per line, which is much less than the (rather generous) 10km I allowed for above which comes out to 300 million km. If the lower figure is true, then the copper inherent in the network is worth less than £2.5bn…

    4. Avatar TheFacts says:

      I do know the number is incorrect!

    5. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      Maybe, but let’s say it’s not obvious from your posting. Quite the opposite.

  2. Avatar david says:

    That’s what BT get for not replacing the whole wiring into fibre and been cheapskates and no sympathy for them .

    1. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      Nice way to go. Giving moral approval to a bunch of metal thieves.

      Incidentally, BT are under a regulatory requirement to provide a metal path facility, and that isn’t going to change any time in the forseeable future.

    2. Avatar New_Londoner says:

      Totally agree Steve, a really moronic comment from “david”. It’s the same sort of sentiment that encourages people to make fraudulent insurance claims, invent fictitious injuries to claim compensation for etc, never really considering that all of these “victimless” crimes do in reality have consequences for others.

      On a more practical point, I expect TalkTalk, Sky and others would be thrilled if they had to write off their LLU investments due to copper being withdrawn. And what about the increased bills to fund the £20bn investment?

      Still, I’m sure “david” thought about this before posting his comment!

  3. Avatar FibreFred says:

    Familiar article, very very familiar comments sigh

    1. Avatar GNewton says:

      Indeed. There are even people who feel sorry for BT 🙂

    2. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      It’s not BT are that are adversely affected any real way. The costs are (relatively) trivial. It’s the users of the service that matter.

      Frankly I don’t care for those who seems to accept criminality. A similar cable theft on the GWR mainline a few months back caused disruption to thousands. Others damage churches, steal works of art and even endanger lives through stealing manhole covers.

    3. Avatar No Clue says:

      Will BT be refunding the customers for the time period they are without service or will they take the road of the copper thieves and still be charging them for the time spent with no service?

  4. Avatar GNewton says:

    Two wrongs don’t make it right!

    1. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      What two wrongs? I’m curious. We know there was one criminal act involving the theft of copper cable. Perhaps you’d enlighten us to what other illegal activity has taken place.

    2. Avatar No Clue says:

      The other involves continuing to charge people for a service not being provided, both the copper vanishing and charging for something you are not providing i believe is commonly called THEFT.

  5. Avatar No Clue says:

    “Official BT Statement (19th September 2014)…….
    The cable theft occurred at about 11.20pm on Sunday in Norton Road, Billingham. Anybody with any information about the incident can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or through an anonymous online form at http://www.crimestoppers-uk.org .”

    No doubt people are going to make the call and go online with their phone line products/serices, which erm have had the copper nicked and thus not working. Almost as bad as when there is internet maintenance work and you ring the BT status line and they instruct you to check online at http://www.bt.zzzzzzzz

    BT, utter geniuses as always!

    1. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      Or they could call them on a mobile. Or call them from work. Or maybe somebody driving past saw something. Or possibly somebody in the scrap business has some inside information. Or maybe somebody heard something suspicious in a pub…

      Gee – have you not the slightest imagination?

    2. Avatar No Clue says:

      Call on a mobile… Yes great solution, why waste time and money replacing the scrap copper if everyone can do that.

      Call from work…. Errr it affected 5000 premises and businesses so unless they work out of the area chances are phones at work dont work either. Also chances are if people are at work all day and travel out of the area to get to work they wouldn’t of been up at 11.20pm on a Sunday evening, unless they enjoy working part time Neighbour hood watching for BT and being knackered at their real jobs the next day.

      Driving past… Id like to think people are concentrating on the road rather than getting a visible decent description in darkness of someone down a hole nicking cable.

      Local Scrap metal dealers… Some how i think the old bill will be asking them direct rather than waiting on local scrap dealers to phone them on their phone which errrr doesn’t work.

      Good but laughable attempt to deflect again though.

  6. Avatar GNewton says:

    So you think it’s OK not to have proper up-to-date telecom services available in the UK? And BT ripping off customers and only capable of providing poor services? Virtually no fibre-optic broadband (VDSL is not one of them, it’s not future-proof, and a dead-end road)? Forcing businesses to move so as to have proper telecom services? Poor customer services by BT?

    I think you will find that many posters here will find this copper-theft incidence highly ironic, for a good reason, something you as a BT shareholder probably won’t understand, at least not until you have used genuine fibre services yourselves to see for yoursevles the increasing digital divide.

    And let’s not talk about the many Millions of taxpayer’s money wasted on this greedy BT beggar who has no need for it. If BT can’t do telecom services, let them do something else, they already waste enough of their energy on new adventures anyway, such as dubious Sainsbury voucher schemes to lure some users to become their customers (really, how stupid is that?), or on BT Sports.

    1. Avatar GNewton says:

      BTW.: This post is addressed to Steve Jones, to answer his question about What two wrongs.

    2. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      So you are making a moral equivalency to a a group of metal thieves and a perfectly legal activity. Indeed a mandatory activity (by regulation) of providing copper pairs at a regulated price. Just wow. I sincerely hope you aren’t involved in the legal system.

      Just try making your case without resorting to ridiculous hyperbole. As it is, you come across as having no sense of proportion.

    3. Avatar GNewton says:

      Steve, You are really a die-hard BT fan, aren’t you, that you can’t even see the irony of this incidence!

      I never said that it is right to steal copper, of course it isn’t. That doesn’t deny the fact that BT is one of the worst companies to deal with. So hardly nobody will feel sorry for you if your BT shares go downhill. Just because something legally allowed doesn’t always make it morally right.

    4. Avatar FibreFred says:

      GNewton, why do you need to feel that you must turn any article that is about BT into your own soapbox.

      What has copper theft got to do with BT being hard to deal with, nothing at all. Why don’t you go do something more useful like trawl the streets with a sandwich board with some anti-BT slogan or something.

      Childish arguments, next you’ll be singing the praises of those that pull copper from train lines or get fried in national grid substations, actually no nothing have anything to do with BT so… no need to get on a high horse

    5. Avatar GNewton says:

      Freddy, you are one of the biggest childish BT fans here, because you are unable to see the irony of the situation. To be clear, stealing copper is absolutely not right, and the thiefs should be prosecuted for this. However, you frequent name calling here on these forums, truly shows you have no respect whatsoever for people who have a different opinion. I have clearly answered Steve’s question as to why 2 wrongs don’t make things right, I feel sorry for you if you are so emotionally attached to your beloved copper VDSL service from BT.

  7. Avatar FibreFred says:

    More priceless BT hating garbage 🙂

    1. Avatar No Clue says:

      Yep terrible… Almost as sickening as the prior original BT virtual love making before it.

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