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Santa Cruz Fiber Cut Proves Value of Wireless-only Communication
4/24/2009

While I was in San Jose two weeks ago, someone cut fiber bundles at multiple critical locations in the San Jose and Santa Cruz area. The loss of connectivity through these fiber links caused a disruption of telephone, cell phone and Internet access in a 100 mile-swath from San Jose to Morgan Hill and Gilroy. One hospital had to resort to paper recordkeeping when its internal computer system wouldn't work without the Internet. People were unable to make 911 calls. Cell phones didn't work as they depended on the fiber connections. Amateur radio operators turned out to be the most reliable method for emergency communications as their radios did not depend on fiber links to connect repeater sites. Some people on my return flight to Los Angeles April 9 were talking about driving for miles to find an area where they could get cell phone access. Others said they couldn't do much at work because e-mail was down.

There are lessons here for TV broadcasters. Many broadcasters rely on fiber to deliver their signal to cable companies and often to the transmitter site as well. In most cases, a microwave link backs up the fiber connection to the transmitter and cable companies should be able to take the over-the-air signal if the fiber fails. Don't take these wireless connections for granted! Make sure STL links are well maintained and function and that cable companies have the ability to take your over-the-air DTV signal if fiber fails.

For a sobering report on our increasing dependence on a very vulnerable infrastructure, see Bruce Perens' article A Cyber-Attack on an American City. After reading his report, I suspect you'll be checking your microwave links! Perens notes that Morgan Hill survived mostly unscathed. He credits this to preparation for a large earthquake, which would likely disrupt communications. Would your community have survived a similar attack as well as Morgan Hill?

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