Sky Customers Cut Off As Failed Copper Thieves Steal BT Fibre

Around 37,000 Sky customers in London were left without landline or broadband connection for two days, after incompetent copper cable thieves raided BT‘s infrastructure – and stole fibre.

The outage began on Tuesday evening, affecting customers in Stamford Hill, Dartford, Ewell, Mitcham, Wimbledon, Hampstead, Battersea, Chiswick and Beulah Hill. An undisclosed number of BT and TalkTalk clients were also affected.

Sky is working with BT Openreach to fix the problem, and by Friday morning all exchanges except the one in Chiswick were back online.

According to the Guardian, the hapless criminals were after valuable copper cable, but all they managed to find was fibre, which enables faster broadband speeds but is almost impossible to resell.


The outage was first reported after 11pm on Tuesday. According to Sky, a “large number” of cables were cut at the site on Great West Road, where they were apparently accessed through a manhole cover. Stolen copper wire can be sold to unscrupulous recycling companies, which pay up to £4 for a kilogram, melt it down and sell it on. In contrast, fibre cable is useless to anyone outside of  the networking industry.

By 2pm on Wednesday, a team of ten engineers was already working on the affected site. According to a Sky spokesperson, the location was difficult to access, which delayed the repairs.

On Thursday evening, Sky restored service to 27,000 customers, but discovered “further damage” affecting areas of Stamford Hill, Ewell and Chiswick, which could indicate the thieves attempted to cut the cables in more than one place.

Last year, BT introduced the Rapid Assessment BT Incident Tracker (RABIT) – a system that can detect when a cable has been cut or damaged, alerting the company and law enforcement of a possible cable theft. However, the system obviously doesn’t apply to the fibre cable.

The sudden outage left many customers stranded amid one of the busiest online shopping periods of the year. Sky said it expects to completely restore the service tonight.

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Max Smolaks

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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