Tens of thousands of French homes lose internet as vandals cut cables

[Article updated at 17:30 on April 27]

The internet connections of tens of thousands of residents in several French towns have been slowed down or cut off completely in a series of suspected attacks by vandals on the fibre optic network. 

The economy ministry confirmed the issues to AFP news service this morning (April 27), saying problems with “severed cables” had been identified and were suspected of being related to vandalism. 

As a result, internet users may notice that pages are slower to load – or do not load at all – today, although the disruption had largely been resolved by midday.

Cables were cut on the Paris-Lyon, Paris-Strasbourg and Paris-Lille networks, and Le Parisien reports that the vandalism took place at Fresnes-en-Woëvre (Meuse), Souppes-sur-Loing (Seine-et-Marne) and Le Coudray-Montceaux (Essonne).

 Internet provider Free informed its customers – around 100,000 of whom were affected –  that “multiple acts of malice” on the fibre optic infrastructure had occurred during the night but were now “contained”.

IT solutions company Netalis, for its part, began a live blog on its website to keep users up to date with the situation. It described the outages as being a “major” incident, and unusual in that each cut had occurred just “tens of minutes apart”.

Down Detector, a website which gathers together information from internet users on connection issues, reflected a significant rise in the number of people reporting problems with Orange, SFR and Free. An increase was also noted with regards to Bouygues, but it was not as pronounced. 

The impact to SFR customers was reportedly minimal, although the company confirmed that cables were cut. However, and Orange and Bouygues have not reported problems.

The website also showed that the reports were concentrated around the Paris-Lyon, Paris-Strasbourg and Paris-Lille networks, as well as in Marseille and Grenoble.

“It’s a bit like if a motorway was blocked off and traffic had to be redirected onto routes nationales,” Sami Slim of communications technology provider Telehouse told AFP. 

Too strange a coincidence to be an accident 

While it is not uncommon to see issues affect the internet on a particular network, it is much more unusual for several outages to occur at once.

Network engineer Pierre-Yves Maunier, told Numerama: “It is very rare to have so many connections cut at the same time.”

Outages were detected at 03:20, 03:40 and 05:20 this morning in locations separated by a considerable distance, affecting national and international networks. 

It had been suggested that the cuts could have been caused accidentally by a mechanical digger at a building site, but this has now been ruled out due to the time and locations of the outages. 

The incident has been passed on to the police for investigation. 

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