Originally created 05/01/01

Stakes rise for cable thieves



If you're watching stolen cable, be forewarned: Someone might be watching you.

Cable provider Knology has announced a crackdown on cable theft in the metro Augusta area. The move comes as state legislators have passed tough new laws on cable theft, which up potential statutory damages.

Repeat offenders could be fined as much as $10,000. Those looking to make a buck off copped cable could be fined $50,000 in court. One to five years' jail time remains a possibility for any first offense.

Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes signed the amended code section into law Friday. The state law exists in addition to measures under the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The cable industry loses $6.5 billion a year because of cable theft, according to the National Cable Television Association.

Local estimates were unavailable, but Knology General Manager Lesia Price said the lost revenue nationwide results in higher local cable rates.

She said cable theft also might cause picture-quality problems for paying customers because thieves routinely cut into lines and damage equipment.

"(Violations are) primarily in the apartment complexes," Ms. Price said. "It's a little worse there than in the homes."

Ms. Price said periodic audits help reduce the problem. In its crackdown, Knology staff members will step up their drives through neighborhoods to match subscriber names with households that have a cable line.

If the two don't match, Knology can take action at its discretion. Chances are, the company will attempt to resolve the conflict without harsh penalties, she said. "We really just want to remind people that it is illegal to hook up the cable."

Knology is a relatively new company to the Augusta area, having begun local operations in 1998. Comcast, however, has been dealing with cable theft issues for years.

"It has never been a big problem around here," said Bill Botham, area Comcast spokesman. "Overall, we've had a pretty darn honest community."

But he said his people are always alert to violations.

"We have a full-time team of auditors out in the field doing random checks and follow-ups," he said. "If we do find an illegal connection, we never jump to conclusions and assume somebody is stealing. We assume we've made a mistake and proceed from that assumption. We take each one on a case-by-case basis."

Reach Eric Williamson at (706) 828-3904.