Fragile and (not) always on

POSTED: October 9, 2020

We live in a fragile world, and simply spend most of our time not noticing it. Sometimes people ask what would happen if the internet just stopped, but only as an excuse for half an hour of idle speculation and world-building. We ask that question only because we believe it will never happen and therefore we can safely frighten ourselves with some tall tales.

According to The Guardian recently, the far-fetched may prove more likely than we usually imagine. That, at least, constitutes my take-away from this:

For 18 months, at precisely 7am every day, the broadband signal in the tiny Welsh village of Aberhosan simply vanished.

Engineers were sent to the remote settlement in mid Wales, which has a population of just 400, to investigate the problem. They spent days testing connections and replacing cables until they finally got to the root of the problem – one villager’s old telly.

The resident, who has asked not to be identified, turned his secondhand television on each day at 7am. It created a burst of “electrical noise” that brought down the neighbourhood’s broadband.

Technically, the phenomenon called SHINE caused the issue.

“We wanted to do one final test to see if the fault was being caused by a phenomenon known as Shine (Single High-level Impulse Noise) where electrical interference is emitted from an appliance that can then have an impact on broadband connectivity.

“We walked up and down the village in the torrential rain at 6am to see if we could find an electrical noise to support our theory. And at 7am, like clockwork, it happened. Our device picked up a large burst of electrical interference.”
The engineers knocked on the door and the problem was solved.

If one old television can do that to a whole village, imagine what a band of trained terrorists could do if they spread out across the countryside, each armed with an elderly second-hand household appliance, and switched them on at precisely the same time.

Fragile times, indeed!