"It was throughout," said Emerald Dahozy-Craig, spokeswoman for the Office of the President of the Navajo Nation. "Even the ATMs didn't work. We still had power though."
From west of Albuquerque to Gallup to Shiprock to Window Rock, people reported the services outage around 3:30 p.m. Thursday. Cell phone service was out, as was long-distance, though people could still dial locally and call 911.
Services were restored to most by about 11 p.m. that night, and to all by 2 a.m. Friday, according to David Gonzales, a New Mexico spokesman for CenturyLink.
CenturyLink is the owner of the main fiber cable that the thieves cut, though the cable had various fibers that were owned by other telecommunications companies. It is common for companies to sell fibers within their cables to others in order to consolidate services and because the capacity of one cable is so great.
Frontier Communications, which provides services for the entire Navajo Nation, is just one of the companies that had fibers affected by the break.
"It was huge," said Karen Miller, a Frontier spokeswoman, who received notice of the break Thursday but could not estimate the number of Frontier customers affected.
About 1,200 CenturyLink customers temporarily lost their communications services, as did an unknown number of Verizon customers.
"It's one of the main fiber routes that goes across (New Mexico)," Miller said.
It is not the first time that thieves have interrupted lines of communication in the area. CenturyLink was just one of the companies that last year helped to pass stricter legislation in New Mexico, legislation that specifically targets those who steal copper from transportation, communication and electricity networks.
The crime has become common nationwide since the price for copper has doubled in the past two years, according to the Coalition Against Copper Theft in Washington, D.C.
The thieves Thursday likely were stripping electrical wire and thought that the fiber cable also would be made of copper, though it is not, Gonzales said.
"Thieves don't realize, it's glass inside," Gonzales said. "It's a big issue."