By: Laura Keil

A second phone and internet blackout is being blamed on another theft of fiber optic cable close to where cable was stolen west of McBride at the end of July.

Telus spokesperson Sean Hall says thieves stole 100 m of cable the first time on July 30th near Hansard, about an hour northwest of McBride. It happened again Aug. 4th.

This time 300 m was stolen.

“These are big repairs,” he says. “We had to bring out the big cable reel truck.”

Both times some 350 Telus customers in McBride were left without access to landline, cell service, or Internet for two days.

Mayor Mike Frazier says it’s not just businesses that lose money because of the outage, as internet and debit machines are knocked out. It’s also impossible to call 911.

“Some of us have given up our landlines for just cellphones and when all the system goes down, there’s no access to emergency services. That’s a big deal for us.”

The cell phones affected were mostly devices that work on Telus CMDA network that supports mostly 1G and 2G phones. Phones that operate on 3G such as iPhone, or BlackBerry were mostly not affected as some of them are fed from a different telephone tower.

Telus had the main cut fixed in just over a day, but it took them a couple of days to track down all the burned areas and replace the cable, Hall says. The way the poles were cut, the cable had touched the Hydro line the cable burned in several spots.

Hall says they have had a couple hundred incidents of cable theft in BC so far this year, the bulk of them in the Lower Mainland, he says.

“The thieves are stealing cable to sell it for scrap,” he says. “In this case they are stealing cable that has no value on the scrap market.”

Hall says they see more thefts now because the price of copper is at an historic high. Even if the cable had been copper, they likely would have made only a few hundred bucks, where each repair costs Telus about $50,000.

Hall says Telus is in the process of replacing copper cables with fiber optic to discourage theft. The thieves put their own lives at risk, he says, as poles have sometimes fallen on the thief or the thief has been injured by thrashing cable.

“They are putting their own lives at risk, they are putting our customers lives at risk – all for a couple hundred bucks. It doesn’t seem worth it.”

With tens of thousands of km of cable, Hall says it’s impossible to police it all the time. He says they are working with Prince George RCMP to pursue the investigation and will prosecute to as full extent as possible.

McBride RCMP Cpl. Pete Berndsen says if the phones and internet go down, people should check on their loved ones who have health concerns more often. If there is an emergency, Berndsen says most people will know where to go.
“In our little town, people know where we live,” Berndsen says. “If you need to track us down, you knock on our door.”

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