TSTT has been the victim of an unprecedented assault on its network infrastructure, leaving the company and thousands of its customers without critical services. So far this year there have been 181 separate incidents. The problem has become particularly acute over the past few weeks, with incidents of malicious vandalism or cable theft occurring almost on a daily basis – sometimes in several locations. The Company has spent over TT$25M completing repairs to a variety of facilities – from copper and fiber optic cable to cell sites and transmission equipment. The average cost to the Company to complete each repair is $50,000.

Dennis Gordon, head of Security, Safety and Environment at TSTT believes that part of the problem stems from an apparent shortage of copper and other metals, primarily in emerging Asian economies. “Cutting of fiber optic cables is another matter, however.” He says when fiber optic cables are cut the perpetrators do not attempt to remove the cable. “ There is no material of value in these fiber optic cables. They are cut purely to disrupt communications services and create an inconvenience for TSTT’s fixed-line and mobile services customers.”

Gordon noted that the vandals and thieves have targeted the larger cables serving between 600 and 1200 customers. “Cumulatively, last year, considering multiple strikes in areas such as Couva, over 450,000 fixed lines were affected. At the rate things have been going, the problem is reaching epidemic proportions.”

Even as TSTT stepped up surveillance to stop the damage, vandals and thieves have escalated their efforts to do harm. TSTT’s increased vigilance led to the arrest of over 53 persons since 2006 on charges of theft and malicious damage to cables and cell sites. For the most, part thieves cut cables in remote, sparsely populated areas late at night or in the very early morning when the chances of being observed are reduced. Some have taken to crawling down narrow manhole shafts, worming their way through tight, damp, stifling ducts up to ten feet below the ground to get at the cables. One person has been arrested in the Belmont area attempting to steal the overhead cable in broad daylight.

“The people involved don’t care if the homes they affect have a medical emergency or are facing natural or manmade disasters.” On Tuesday night (June 26th), vandals struck in Gran Couva cutting a fiber optic cable that not only left several hundred households without fixed line service, but also knocked out cellular coverage over several square miles. TSTT is working diligently to restore service for the hundreds of justifiably frustrated customers - customers who are equally desperate for a solution. “TSTT has had the experience of repairing cables today only to have them cut or stolen within 24 hours.” Gordon added however, that the Company has been reviewing a number of alternatives to mitigate the situation and that “our customers will be hearing about these alternatives very soon.”

Community vigilance is an indispensable part of stemming the scourge. Gordon cautions, though, that increased Company and community vigilance may not be enough to overcome the unrelenting persistence of thieves and vandals, noting that both the Dominican Republic and Guyana had banned the export of copper due to the extent of cable theft in their respective countries.

Mr. Gordon concludes: “This deliberate, costly, and often malicious damage to our network is a serious problem, requiring serious solutions. TSTT is committed to taking the necessary action to ensure that service disruptions for our valuable customers are minimized.”

TSTT is also making an appeal to anyone with information about persons responsible for damaging the company’s cables or cellular and transmission equipment to contact the police service via E999 or Crime Stoppers at 800-TIPS.