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Zimbabwe's Internet Went Down for About Five Hours. The Culprit Was Reportedly a Tractor. (slate.com) 63

Zimbabweans lost internet access en masse on Tuesday when a tractor reportedly cut through key fiber-optic cables in South Africa and another internet provider experienced simultaneous issues with its primary internet conduits. From a report: The outage began shortly before noon local time and persisted for more than five hours, affecting not only citizens' day-to-day internet usage but businesses that rely upon web access. And while five internet-free hours might sound unfathomable to those of us accustomed to having the web constantly at our fingertips, large-scale internet outages -- from inadvertent lapses caused by ship anchors to government-calculated blackouts designed to showcase political power -- do happen, and maybe more frequently than you'd thought. According to local news sources, a tractor in South Africa damaged cables belonging to Liquid Telecom, which has an 81.5 percent market share of Zimbabwe's international-equipped internet bandwidth as of the second quarter of 2017 and leases capacity to other internet providers. In a bad coincidence, city council employees in Kuwadzana, a suburb of Zimbabwe's capitol city of Harare, cut an additional TelOne cable around the same time. (According to NewsDay Zimbabwe, it was an accident. The company blamed "faults that occurred on our main links through South Africa and Botswana" in a statement.)
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Zimbabwe's Internet Went Down for About Five Hours. The Culprit Was Reportedly a Tractor.

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  • Any details on why a tractor would have been able to cut through what should have been buried in a concrete trench? I thought the rule was that the more vulnerable and possible to be interfered with by humans, the more armoring and protection a fiber cable would have.

    For example, near shore, a cable is deeply buried and clad with multiple layers of steel pipe, then gradually far offshore it becomes a lesser and lesser diameter rubber shielded cable.

    That a tractor could cut through accidentally sound
    • My concern is the impact this had on Zimbabwe...the article never stated the full impact on both the people affected by this full country outtage...?!!?
      • by Cryacin ( 657549 )
        This was nothing compared to the Peruvian "Lama induced" Internet outage of 2014. Six months without facebook.... geez
    • Re:poor protection? (Score:4, Informative)

      by HumanWiki ( 4493803 ) on Friday December 08, 2017 @01:36PM (#55702905)

      This stuff happens even here in the USA.... Not even a stretch... I've had tickets I've closed out for ISPs due to "fiber seeking backhoe"

      • I've had tickets I've closed out for ISPs due to "fiber seeking backhoe"

        A backhoe makes sense. A tractor does not. Plows rarely go deeper than 8 inches (20 cm).

        Most likely this is just a dumb journalist that doesn't understand the difference between a backhoe and a tractor.

      • by Zephyn ( 415698 )

        This stuff happens even here in the USA.... Not even a stretch... I've had tickets I've closed out for ISPs due to "fiber seeking backhoe"

        That's what can happen when you're careless about spammers and wind up on the RBL: The Realtime Backhoe List.

    • na that's expensive.

      Plenty of the fiber even here in the USA is direct bury type or in plastic corrugated innerducts. backhoes and tractors and vandals sometimes cut them

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Friday December 08, 2017 @01:12PM (#55702763)
    >> five internet-free hours might sound unfathomable to those of us accustomed to having the web constantly at our fingertips

    I've been working with large datacenters for about twenty years now. One of the most terrifying things we can hear is that a truck with a backhoe has just pulled up down the street. And I've seen more "oops, they accidentally dug up all our redundant links" (because they were concentrated at point X) more times than I can count. So yes, it happens, and that large cable that you may see from time to time lying right on the ground (near a hole) is really some poor business's lifeline to the Internet.
    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      I believe there's also a term for it, "backhoe fade".

      Happens now and again - even when you follow all the rules. Most places have a "call before you dig" rule where if you blindly dig and disrupt services, you're responsible not only for the damage, but also for the repairs and remediation and other costs. (And of course, opening yourself up to other costs since it basically admits guilt - think 0of the whole neighbourhood of displaced people you need to pay hotels and other costs for because you hit a gas

  • I believe this is what is known as "Backhoe Fade."
  • by XxtraLarGe ( 551297 ) on Friday December 08, 2017 @01:15PM (#55702793) Journal
    A farmer in Michigan took out the internet with a backhoe for several hours. His farm is on the I-94 corridor and he accidentally cut through Merit's [merit.edu] backbone connection. It made being the LMS administrator for a college with 500+ online courses a lot of fun. Phone rings: "Hi, I can't connect to my online classes!"
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Phone rings

      That's what you did wrong. You should have been using VoIP.

  • Tow it to the shop Mr. Sulu.

  • It's obvious that a John Deere tractor detected someone trying to load new firmware onto it from an online source and merely acted to protect itself.
  • These types of issues are common, especially in the midwest of the US. However, it shouldn't have caused an outage. I see in the article that they're not sure why redundant links didn't work.

    • Probably the same reason restores from backup fail often.. It was built out, configured and ready -- but, they're not regularly testing to make sure fail-over or restore is possible..

  • What? Much of this country has Comcast, so more than five total hours of outages happen nearly every week.

  • Once is an accident. Twice in a short time frame is a coincidence. Twice in a short time frame shortly after a dramatic change in government is a very suspicious coincidence.
  • It seems like not that long ago when I was in support, call volume spiked, and we found out later that somebody backhoed a huge portion of the US network. MAE East used to go down all the time. This is just normal growing pains in a developing network. It can still happen to "mature" networks.

  • by clonehappy ( 655530 ) on Friday December 08, 2017 @02:39PM (#55703247)

    Whenever you go hiking way out in the woods, always be sure to carry a length of fiber along with you, in case you get lost. This way when the backhoe operator arrives to dig it up, you just follow him home.

  • by portwojc ( 201398 ) on Friday December 08, 2017 @04:56PM (#55703887) Homepage

    Backhoe Fade

  • Accessible copper cables don't last long in the UK, let alone in Zimbabwe. The UK ones mostly get stolen by East Europeans who ship it back there and return there themselves when the police get close to them, to be replaced by new guys. It is a big reason for going to fibre. I expect the "tractor" driver was disappointed when he turned up fibre.

  • Tractors don't cut cables, people do.

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