MediaOne brought local media attention to the issue of
signal theft in November when it ran a two-week cable theft amnesty program in several
Midwestern cities, including Cleveland; Dayton, Ohio; Detroit and Lansing, Mich.
The MSO backed the program with a series of newspaper print
ads and cross-channel spots featuring excuses people come up with for neglecting to pay
for their cable service.
"We thought the cable came with the rent," read
the headline of one such ad.
Bill Black, regional director of corporate communications
for the company's metropolitan Detroit area, said tenants failing to alert the
operator that cable is still connected once they move in is the most common form of
MediaOne enlisted the support of local television and
newspaper reporters to get the word out that cable theft can lead to higher cable rates
and lower franchise fees for the community. Like the ads, the stories also let cable
thieves know they could turn themselves in during the two-week period without fear of
prosecution or being billed for back fees.
"We did dangle a carrot," said Black, who added
that the program generated many calls.
Although the company did not yet have a final tally on the
number of pirates that it converted to paying customers during the recent promotion, Black
noted some anecdotal successes.
For example, an administrator at an 11-story hospital in
Ohio called to turn the facility in, reporting that a maintenance man had hooked the cable
back up after the hospital dropped its bulk package a while ago.
MediaOne was set to step up its audit program once the
amnesty offer ended in mid-November.
Black noted that as cable technology moves to a digital
environment, cable theft should be easier to track because of the increased addressability
and advanced security features found on new digital set-top boxes.
Although MediaOne does not offer rewards to anyone who
turns in an illegal cable customer, neighbors and ex-roommates -- perhaps prompted by an
argument -- sometimes come forward.
"When there's a larger awareness that this does
effect rates," Black said, "people will pick up the phone and turn in their