Copper Lines Theft: Internet Outages as a Result

Stolen copper linesStolen copper lines

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Over the last 2 weeks, my internet has been down more than it has been up. The culprit: thieves pulling down wires from poles for the copper contained within. 

I live in a neighborhood South of downtown Dallas. A neighborhood full of good people, but also full of struggle. So much so that the prospect of stealing hanging wires for the copper seems like a good idea. 

Copper thieves have been wreaking havoc on Dallas, both north and South. It is to the point now that we see multiple AT&T trucks up and down our street almost daily.

What Exactly is Going On?

Copper is one of the most valuable scrap metals out there, fetching prices up to $4 per pound. Bad actors have been stealing copper spools from construction sites, pulling out copper piping from abandoned homes, and climbing utility poles to pull down those wires for that precious scrap metal above our heads. 

Leaning utility pole

Nothing is out of reach.

We have had 3 internet outages over the last 2 weeks. Our internet is through AT&T and is delivered via fiber. It’s basically glass that is worthless to scrappers. Our fiber wires has essentially been collateral damage as these “scrappers” went after the real prize: copper wires. 

They have been taking what they were after, and leaving our fiber lines laid out on the ground. 

Cables left in the alley after replacement
Fiber lines were left laying in the alley after AT&T came out and fixed the lines.

During that last outage, I was actually working from home. Knowing that these “scrappers” had targeted the same section of cables previously, I had a pretty good idea of where it would be happening this time, and I ran out of the house. 

I pulled up and witnessed the “scrapper” in the act. They had on a reflective vest and were piling cables into a black duffle bag with a beat up bike laid on the ground nearby. 

I wish I would have filmed the interaction. 

Here’s how it went: 

Me: Sir, what are you doing?

Scrapper: I’m a scrapper, I just found these lines down?

Me: You sure you didn’t pull these down yourself?

Scrapper: They were like this when I found them…

Blah, blah, blah

Lines after being replaced
Where the copper thief was confronted, this area was completely over grown before the fact, and the lines were hanging considerably lower.

I did call the non emergency police line, but with a 30+ minute response time, he was long gone by the time they responded. 

I have neighbors that have brought up smelling burning rubber during a few of these outages. It is common practice for these scrappers to burn off the rubber outer coating, leaving only the copper they can then sell.

That copper is taken to a scrap metal yard, which knowingly or unknowingly buys the copper from our “scrapper.” And then the cycle repeats. 

My Copper Theft Observations

  1. In my case, they have been targeting lower hanging lines. No joke, these lines must be 12 ft off the ground. A very easy target as a ladder isn’t even needed. 
  2. Lower visibility lines. I have personally walked the areas where each of these thefts took place. They were all in an alley, behind houses and on roads where the speed limit is a bit higher.  I have also seen reports where the lines were pulled from areas with few houses that face the victim lines.
  3. A reflective vest. The gentleman I caught red handed was wearing a reflective vest, but quickly removed it after the confrontation. I have also seen this same guy scouting other lines wearing the same reflective vest. That reflective vest is powerful. Don’t let it fool you. 
  4. General blight. My neighborhood is changing, for better or for worse. That change is coming slowly. Even I am even surprised at how rundown and uncared for parts of our neighborhood are. If it looks like the neighbors aren’t taking care of the neighborhood, that leads me to believe that neighborhood is a target. 
  5. AT&T and the city have done a poor job of keeping alleyways clear. After walking the areas where the lines have been stolen, it is clear that these areas have long been neglected. Wholly overgrown and only cleared so the techs had enough space to fix the lines, often leaving the scraps behind.
    Overgrown alley way

What Can be Done to Stop This?

That is a tough one. I live in a neighborhood that some would say is “transitioning.” It is not uncommon to see people walking down the street with a cart full of scrap metal heading over to the many metal shops that border my neighborhood. 

Most of these people are harmless, just looking for a way to make a buck or two. Differentiating the harmless from the not so harmless would be an almost impossible task. Stopping people because they have a cart, or may be unhoused, should never be a solution. 

We could ask the city for more resources. We could start the transition away from copper entirely. We could start burying the wires so they are harder to get to. Or, at the very least, we could make sure these wires are hung as high as possible. 

We should demand the city keep the alleys clear. The amount of overgrowth in this area is mind-boggling, and an invitation to these bad actors.

And at the very least, the mess should be cleaned up by AT&T after replacing lines. Leaving the old lines behind just contributes more to the blight of the area and invites more mischievous actors.

Lines on the ground in alley

My best advice at this moment: stay vigilant. Keep an eye out. That’s what it boils down to until a more permanent solution can be implemented.

Besides leaning on the city to clean up these alleyways, I honestly have no idea what a real, viable solution is here. But this is happening outside of alleys as well.

All I know is this is turning into a real problem, with numerous health and safety implications if it is not addressed soon. 

Fox 4 reporting on the issue a few neighborhoods away:

Lines left behind after replacement
Lines left behind after replacement
An alley in South Dallas where the copper thefts have occurred on three separate occasions.
An alley in South Dallas where the copper thefts have occurred on three separate occasions.
Lines were left hanging on trees after AT&T replaced them.
Lines were left hanging on trees after AT&T replaced them.
The area cleared where the lines were pulled down.
The area cleared where the lines were pulled down.

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