Colorado Nears Tougher Cable-Theft Law

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Colorado lawmakers were apparently on the verge last weekof enacting legislation that would strengthen the state's cable-televisiontheft-of-service statute.

Officials from the Colorado Cable TelecommunicationsAssociation were camped out at the legislature in an attempt to guide House Bill 1041through the Senate, where it had narrowly cleared the Judiciary Committee by a 4-3 vote.

The bill had already passed the House of Representatives.

Some lawmakers, however, were reluctant to support ameasure allowing operators to collect a minimum of $5,000 from end-users caught piratingcable, either through a tap that delivers basic programming or via an illegal set-top boxthat provides free premium services.

"It's been a tough bill," said associationexecutive director Steve Durham. "It's going to be a close vote, but we shouldwin."

Historically, cable operators have shied away from pursuingend-users, fearing public backlash from consumers angered by the appearance of a largecorporation prosecuting individuals.

"It's true that we tend not to go afterindividuals," Durham said. "But we need a law like this as a tool against somerecalcitrant types who won't stop stealing cable service."

Under the existing Colorado theft-of-service statute,individuals caught pirating cable are basically on the hook for one day's worth ofservice.

"You could never prove damages, so it wasn'tworth going after them," Durham said. "This way, you get triple damages, or$5,000 -- whichever is greater."

The most recent survey by the National Cable TelevisionAssociation estimated that theft of service costs operators $6 billion per year in lostrevenue.

Moreover, it found that up to 11 percent of U.S. homes arestealing cable service.

That's enough to elicit support for the proposedColorado law from Tele-Communications Inc., which has 430,000 cable subscribers in metroDenver alone.

"The very nature of the crime makes itvery difficult to know exactly how many people are illegally receiving service," saidMatt Fleury, spokesman for TCI of Colorado. "The idea with this law is to standardizea penalty that is impressive enough to compel people that are currently stealing serviceto become paying customers." 

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