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Online banking is great, but…

In 2009, we were living in San Jose, CA and during a labor dispute at AT&T somebody(s) accessed the two fiber optic trunk lines serving the area, and cut them. Now, if you would have told me at the time that someone had knocked-out the fiber trunk lines serving south San Jose (all the way to the Monterey coast, btw), it would not have been a big deal to me. I had lowly Charter cable Internet (hideous!) and T-Mobile, while my wife had Verizon. No fiber, so what’s the big deal?

At 1:30 a.m., someone opened a manhole cover on a railroad right-of-way in San Jose, climbed down and cut four AT&T fiber optic cables. A second AT&T cable, and a Sprint cable, were cut in the same manner two hours later, farther north in San Carlos.
-- Kevin Poulsen, Wired

I soon discovered that the big deal was, nothing worked. No gas, no groceries, no cashing checks at the local bank, no mobile phone service from any carrier. Nothing. Little gets written about the fragility of the online systems that we take for granted, but I can attest to the fact that they are indeed fragile, and if they go down it will indeed ruin your day (or days, or week, or…). Everything that we do electronically, wired or wireless, is dependent on just a few fiber optic cables (dare I say, “glass” cables?). Even seemingly non-electronic activities, like cashing a check at the local bank, rely on precision network timing signals transmitted through these cables. No cables? No checks. Not even from your own local branch, that has your money.

Online banking is great, but things happen. When these things happen, we can still buy gasoline and food with cash, so keep some cash on-hand and be a hero to your friends that didn’t.

-- Scrib