Mmm fibre cables: Rodents chew up Laurentian University internet connection

Rodents are believed to have caused a recent, temporary internet outage at Laurentian University's campus in Sudbury, Ont., by nibbling through a fibre-optic connection cable.

'If there's a rat listening, I would caution it to eat fibre because it is glass at the end of the day'

Rats are suspected to be the culprits behind a recent online outage at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont. (CBC)

Luc Roy was preparing for a long weekend of camping on June 30 when he suddenly started to receive alarms, notifying him that Laurentian University's internet was down in Sudbury, Ont. 

As chief information officer, Roy checked the strength of the school's fibre-optic wires, and discovered that one of the connections had been nibbled through. 

The suspected culprits? Rodents. 

"If there's a rat listening, I would caution it to eat fibre because it is glass at the end of the day," Roy said.

Laurentian's online network came back online within a few hours, according to Roy.

He said he has dealt with all kinds of computer problems, but nothing ever like this. 

From a bug to a rat in the system

"It's so funny," Roy said. 

"I remember the word bug. When you have a bug in the system. It was literally because it was a bug that was actually back in the '70's that was found in the computer, and that actually caused an issue. So I guess now in new days, I guess we call it a rat now."

Agilis Networks, the company that manages the university's fibre-optic internet, called the event an isolated occurrence.
A man sitting in a studio.
Luc Roy is the chief information officer at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

The incident may be a first for Laurentian, but it is more common than people think, according to Skedaddle Humane Wildlife Control president and CEO Bill Dowd.

Soy-based coating is commonly put on electrical wiring, Dowd said, which provides a tasty food source for mice and rats. 

He has even seen animals ruin the cables inside a new BMW. 

"When they opened up the hood there was a mother squirrel and babies inside," Dowd said.

"All the electrical wiring was chewed, so this is becoming a more and more prevalent situation."

'They're basically a beaver'

The fibre that was eaten at Laurentian was plastic, according to Agilis Networks. 

But since rodent teeth are always growing, Dowd said they will chew on anything for recreation and pleasure. 

"They're basically a beaver," Dowd said.

"They constantly need to be chewing. So whether it's electrical wiring, insulation, support — they are going to chew."

Calls to deal with rodents are up 20 per cent over last year in all of Dowd's service areas, including Sudbury, southern Ontario, Ottawa and Montreal. 

He said the best way to protect homes and businesses is to rodent-proof buildings by making sure there are not any places critters can sneak through. 

"Rats only need an opening an opening the size of a quarter to get into a residential home," Dowd said.

"Mice only need the size of a dime. Any home in any city in North America is vulnerable."


Olivia Stefanovich

Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a senior reporter for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau based in Ottawa. She previously worked in Toronto, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter at @CBCOlivia. Story tips welcome: