Argentine copper-thieves stripmine the phone-net

As Argentina continues its slide into economic collapse, crooks are dismantling the telephone system by stealing the copper cables and selling them for scrap. A lot of developing countries with crappy telephone service made the leap to digital cellular telephony without a lot of the crufty intermediary stages that the developed world went through, leapfrogging the US and Canada. Maybe Argentina, stripped of wire infrastructure, will make the leap to mesh networking and IP telephony.

During the last six months, as the country's economic crisis has deepened, stealing telephone cables has become increasingly common, authorities say. Thieves are taking the cables because of their copper wires, which can be sold as scrap metal on the open market. Each phone cable carries between 50 and 2,000 pairs of wires. The thicker the cable, the more copper it contains.

About 2,765 kilometers (1,715 miles) of cables have been stolen over the last year, said Pablo Talamoni, a spokesman for Telecom. Much of the stolen copper is apparently being shipped abroad, although authorities aren't sure who is making the shipments.