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Cable Theft Knocks Out Broadband for 1,000 Premises Around Ely UPDATE

Friday, December 17th, 2021 (1:46 pm) - Score 2,208
British police

Around 1,000 premises in the Witchford and Ely area of Cambridgeshire (England) have been left without a fully working broadband ISP and phone connection after criminals ripped up and stole some of Openreach’s underground copper cables. Local residents have been told that the damage could take up to 14 days to fix.

The price of copper remains stubbornly high and this has a tendency to fuel metal theft, with copper telecoms cable being a common target (examples here, here, here, here, here and here). The perpetrators, who often work as part of an organised gang and drag the cable forcefully out of the ground (i.e. ripping out all of its connections and damaging the network as they go), have no regard for the significant harm this causes.

The latest incident, which occurred just after 9pm on Wednesday night (15th December 2021), appears to have taken place along Witchford Road in Ely. Police are understood to have attended the scene following reports of suspicious activity, and promptly discovered an open manhole cover and some damaged cables.

We should point out that the new generation of optical fibre cables in gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband networks aren’t worth anything to such thieves, but this doesn’t completely stop the activity because gangs will sometimes rip those out on the mistaken assumption that they might actually be copper.

A Spokesperson for Openreach said (Cambridge Independent):

“Part of our network in the Ely area has been damaged overnight and our cables stolen. This is affecting phone and broadband services for around 1,000 homes and businesses.

This is hugely frustrating, for both local residents who need to work from home, local businesses, and our engineers – who have now started the difficult and time-consuming task of repairing significant damage to the underground network.

We’re still in the process of establishing exactly how much work needs to take place, but we’ve already replaced a large part of the damaged cable and started to rebuild the network. Our engineers are working as quickly as they can do to get this work done.”

Residents were initially told that the damage was so serious that it might take around 14 days to fix, although we’ve asked Openreach to supply an update on this and will report back. Police are urging anyone with information to contact them via 101 or online, quoting reference: 35/86795/21.

We should add that it’s not uncommon for Openreach to offer a small reward (usually £1,000) for information that results in the arrest and conviction of those responsible, although it’s unclear whether that applies to this incident. Anybody who can help should contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or use the online form – everyone stays 100% anonymous.

UPDATE 20th Dec 2021

We’ve been informed that this problem was resolved last Thursday evening and that most people were back online that same evening.

A Spokesperson for Openreach said:

“Our network was damaged on Wednesday evening, causing the loss of phone and broadband to around 1,000 households and businesses in Witchford, near Ely. Engineers worked throughout Thursday to repair the damage and replace the cable, and the majority of people were reconnected that evening.”

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
7 Responses
  1. SM says:

    Interesting that there is “national outrage” when people are without power for days, but some people in another part of the country being without phone and internet for possibly “up to 14 days” doesn’t seem to make the national news, at least not to the same level of “outrage”, at all.

    Admittedly the two things are different, and maybe some will say it’s not really a problem to go without the phoneline and internet for that amount of time, but I just find it interesting all the same.

    1. anonymous says:

      Without power people can’t easily light their homes, their chilled and frozen food will spoil, they may be unable to cook the food they do have if they rely on electricity.

      Somewhat bigger deal than having to use mobile data – the default response to loss of fixed line broadband.

    2. JmJohnson says:

      Outrage is usually accompanied with blame.
      When Openreach is affected by cable theft they are a victim.
      We don’t blame victims.
      When a DNO has a power issue it’s usually due to fallen trees etc… we blame them as they are responsible for preventative maintenance surrounding their network.

    3. Phil says:

      There was local outrage -in East Yorkshire at least – when residents didn’t get their lines re-connected in quick time
      https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/angry-villagers-cut-world-2-25643184

      This village has FTTP – and I think it was fed from the pole that got hit by a car.
      Mobile signal isn’t so great around some of the areas in East Yorkshire so I’d be up in arms if we lost broadband for a significant period. (of course we’d need power to utilise it).

      I guess sometimes it hits the news..

    4. Dave says:

      JMJohnson……

      If a storm blows over trees etc that knocks out power lines, I wouldn’t necessarily blame the DNO. I’ve worked in both telecoms and for a DNO (both major). The DNO I worked for spent millions per year on tree maintenance. My experience of working for a DNO says they bend over backwards to keep the power on. Admittedly in the north of the country and Scotland I imagine it’s a lot more difficult as the weather tends to be a lot worse, and particularly in Scotland a lot more sparsely populated. There are also fines imposed by Ofgem the longer a major power cut goes on. There is a lot of investment in the power distribution network.

      The same goes for telecoms, I previously worked for a major player (one of the top 2 in the uk) and multiple times have been out all night fixing major fibre breaks, although telecoms it’s much easier to get it in and forget about it!

  2. Paul M says:

    If the copper is ripped out, will OpenReach replace it with fibre optic and everyone gets an upgrade to FTTP, or do they simply dangle fresh copper wires from the telegraph poles?

    If they rush to deploy FTTP, then I’d hate for something like that to happen my village 😉

    1. anonymous says:

      Has to be metal. Regulations prevent swap.

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