“Cutting the cord” is the metaphorical phrase that refers to canceling one’s cable TV subscription, often in favor of internet services like Netflix and HBO Now. But at least someone, or someones, in the Bay Area of California is taking the cord-cutting phenomenon a bit too literally.
The FBI is asking for assistance in identifying those responsible for severing fiber optic cables near San Francisco over the past year. Ten separate incidents have been observed since July of 2014—the most recent one came just last week, when an AT&T cable was cut in the suburb of Walnut Creek, knocking out the town’s wireless and landline phone service. AT&T is offering $1,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the serial cable cutters.
The cutters may be wearing a convenient disguise in order to avoid suspicion. According to an FBI press release, “the individuals may appear to be normal telecommunications maintenance workers or possess tools consistent with that job role.” Sneaky.
FBI agent Greg Wuthrich told NBC News that he has some theories on why exactly the miscreants are doing this, but those theories were not yet ready for the public’s ears. It’s possible they want to sell the cables for their copper value, but Wuthrich said that’s not currently among the theories. Copper, which often encases the optical fibers to protect them from water damage, can fetch a pretty penny on the black market.
The vandals could have more nefarious motives. Threats to telecommunications systems and, more importantly, the power grid, are a legitimate concern for the FBI (paywall) and other counterterrorism agencies. In 2013, a sniper took out 17 transformers (in addition to cutting fiber optic cables) at an electrical substation near San Jose that supplied power to Silicon Valley. That case remains unsolved, though investigators don’t believe it’s related to the recent cable-cutting incidents.