Texas Ops Await Piracy Reform


Texas cable operators have moved one step closer in their
pursuit of new theft-of-service legislation.

A bill amending the state's existing cable-theft
statute was awaiting action by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee last week, after
sailing unopposed through the House of Representatives.

Bill Arnold, president of the Texas Cable
Telecommunications Association, said he was optimistic that the industry-sponsored measure
will make it through the Senate before the 1999 legislative session concludes at the end
of May.

"We expect to clear the next hurdle, because there
hasn't been any opposition that we're aware of," Arnold said.
"There's certainly still time, if somebody doesn't try tampering with

The bill is designed to actually reduce the severity of
cable piracy from a "Class B" to a "Class C" misdemeanor, putting it
on a par with such offenses as theft of property, criminal mischief and driving on a
suspended license.

However, repeat offenders could be charged with Class B

By making cable piracy a Class C offense, the idea is to
make the crime, which is believed to cost Texas operators some $200 million per year, the
jurisdiction of a justice of the peace or city court -- venues that routinely handle such

Under the existing statute, Class B misdemeanors fall to
the Texas District Courts, which have relegated the crime to the back burner for years in
order to concentrate on more high-profile crimes.

"We're just trying to do everything we can in
hopes of getting law enforcement's participation," Arnold said.

Arnold warned, however, that even changes in the law do not
guarantee operators that law-enforcement bodies will take the new statute seriously.

"You still have to have the attention of law
enforcement," he said. "If they're not interested in helping you, then
nothing is going to happen."

Under Texas law, a Class B offense is punishable by a fine
of up to $2,000 and 180 days in jail, while a Class C misdemeanor calls for a fine not to
exceed $500.

The proposal would also amend the existing statue to make
accepting advertising for illegal cable set-top devices a "Class A" misdemeanor,
which carries a fine of $4,000 and up to one year in jail.