A vandal severed a critical AT&T fiber optic cable in Hopland on Thursday, disrupting Internet, landline and cellphone service across a broad swath of the North Coast, including much of Mendocino and Humboldt counties and parts of Sonoma and Lake counties.
AT&T, which owns the cable, said late Thursday that investigators determined the damage was caused by vandalism.
“Vandalism is a serious matter that affects public safety and the community at large,” Steven Ramirez, a regional spokesperson for AT&T, said. “We are cooperating with local law enforcement on an investigation of the matter. We apologize for this inconvenience.”
AT&T, Verizon, Sonic and U.S. Cellular customers were among those affected by the outage, which began Thursday morning and lasted deep into the night. Emergency 911 calls were being rerouted to offices that still had functioning communication lines, officials said.
The outage was expected to be repaired late Thursday night or early this morning.
“Technicians are on-site repairing the damage and will work around the clock until service is fully restored,” Ramirez said.
The FBI is searching for vandals blamed for cutting fiber optic lines in at least 11 different locations in the Bay Area over the past year, including Fremont, Walnut Creek, Alamo, Berkeley, San Jose and Livermore.
“The individuals may appear to be normal telecommunications maintenance workers or possess tools consistent with that job role,” the FBI said in a plea for public help issued in June.
In addition to Mendocino and Humboldt counties, southern Lake County and northern Sonoma County appeared to be affected by Thursday’s service outage, said state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, who represents the region.
Seven 911 call centers were affected by the outage, McGuire said. The lawmaker said he was concerned that one damaged fiber optic cable could cause so much disruption for residents, businesses and other telecommunications companies.
“Multiple platforms have been impacted by this outage. It’s had significant impact on the communities of the North Coast,” McGuire said.
“I’m deeply concerned about how vulnerable the North Coast’s 911 system is. We’re going to get through this outage now, but we need a long-term fix to ensure that there is redundant 911 emergency phone service throughout California,” he said.
In Ukiah, some residents and businesses reported their cellphone and land-line service had been affected while others said theirs were not. Internet service appeared to be down in many places throughout the city.
The ATM at the Savings Bank of Mendocino County was not working while the one at the nearby Bank of America was unaffected.
At Ukiah Valley Medical Center, Internet and phone service was down for about an hour and hospital staff were forced to conduct patient registration the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper, during that period.
Customers at the Mendocino Book Company in downtown Ukiah still were able to use their credit cards, though bookstore employees had to use credit card imprint devices. Book orders were taken by hand.
“We’ll just wait until it comes back on to finish making the orders,” said Toni Wheeler, a Mendocino Book Company employee.
Nearby at the Three Sisters boutique shop, owner Leslie Batz said she was not able to process credit cards at all.
“Cash and checks is all I can do right now,” she said.