CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Prospective copper thieves were blamed for knocking out Internet service to about 20,000 Frontier Communications customers in five Eastern Panhandle counties Wednesday.
Frontier spokesman Dan Page said the company began receiving outage complaints from customers beginning about 3:40 a.m. Wednesday.
The outage spread across a significant amount of eastern West Virginia, including Morgan, Jefferson, Berkeley, Hampshire and Mineral counties.
Page said crews eventually determined a severed fiber optic line in a remote area about 16 miles outside of Martinsburg caused the outage.
The line provides service to about 20,000 Frontier customers.
Page said technicians at the scene suspect the line was forcibly cut.
"It looks as if they were attempting to steal the cable, presumably thinking it was copper," Page said.
Once the culprits found the cable was fiber optic line and not copper, they discarded it and fled, officials believe.
Page said the severed line was located in an area that was difficult to access with equipment, making a quick repair difficult.
He said crews finished repairs and restored service about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.
In 2012, the state Legislature passed a law making it illegal to intentionally disrupt public utility or communications services. The law was part of a package of bills designed to curb copper theft.
Anyone caught cutting utility lines or disrupting service can be charged with a misdemeanor and sentenced to 2,000 hours of community service and fined up to $10,000.
Page said he was not aware of any suspects or arrests made in connection to the incident.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at busin...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.