Colorado lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly to enact a
slightly watered-down version of an industry-sponsored theft-of-cable-service bill.
The new law permits operators to collect $4,000 in damages
from individuals caught using illegal taps or bogus set-top converters to pirate cable
Gov. Roy Romer is expected to sign the measure.
However, in a bid to ease the financial bite on voters, a
Senate committee revised the law by reducing the $5,000 damage amount contained in the
"It [the bill] was a little controversial,"
conceded Steve Durham, executive director of the Colorado Cable Telecommunications
Association. "But we can live with $4,000. It's certainly better than beating
people up over $1,000."
The latest survey by the National Cable Television
Association estimated that up to 10 percent of all cable-television viewers are stealing
their service, which amounts to an equal percentage of lost revenues for operators.
As a result, the industry has begun putting aside its
historic reluctance to pursue individual cable pirates.
In Colorado, meanwhile, operators were also goaded into
pursuing new theft-of-service legislation by an existing statute that only allowed for
damages amounting to one day's worth of cable service.
"You could never prove damages beyond stealing service
for one day," Durham said. "But this is a dramatic change. You effectively have
a $4,000 minimum."
The new Colorado law is modeled after similar legislation
passed in California, which, Durham said, has shown signs of curbing cable piracy.
"People who I've talked to say that it's a
deterrent," he said. "At least now, they [cable operators] can take people to
court, which is something that they couldn't do in the past."
That will be of particular value to Tele-Communications
Inc., the state's dominant MSO, which has 430,000 cable subscribers in metro Denver