Copyright 2005 Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Copyright 2005 South Florida Sun-Sentinel

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

May 20, 2005, Friday

Equipment theft, a longtime headache for cable TV companies, is on the rise in South Florida.

Thieves are stealing amplifiers and other equipment used to transmit TV signals to cable customers, according to officials from Comcast Corp. and Adelphia Communications Corp. The companies believe that the thieves, operating throughout South Florida, sell the equipment on the black market in the Caribbean and Central America, where it is sold to cable companies that can use it for their systems.

Each time equipment is stolen, several hundred customers lose cable service, usually for at least a couple of hours, Comcast and Adelphia officials said.

About $400,000 of Comcast equipment was stolen in roughly 250 incidents in Broward and Miami-Dade in the first four months of the year, said Michael Tamas, the company's regional security manager. That compares with $750,000 for all of 2004.

Adelphia believes it has lost $1 million in lost equipment and revenue to theft since 2001, with the pace increasing in the last six to 12 months, said Christopher Melcher, Adelphia's vice president of law and public policy.

The stolen equipment, mainly amplifiers and line extenders, is housed within the green metal boxes that dot the landscape of residential neighborhoods. They generally cost $1,500 to $3,000 each, but are sold for much less in cable refurbishing shops outside the United States, Melcher said.

To deter the thefts, the cable companies said they are starting to use stronger boxes and are bolting some of them to the ground. They are also placing metal straps around some boxes.

"But we have tens of thousands of pieces of equipment throughout Florida, and you can't watch every piece," Melcher said.

Comcast and Adelphia are offering rewards of up to $10,000 for anyone who gives information that leads to the arrest and conviction of someone stealing cable equipment.

The thefts not only force cable companies to deploy new equipment, but require them to keep more inventory on hand and to reassign repair workers to install new amplifiers.

In April, Comcast and Time Warner Inc. said they were buying Adelphia in a $17.6 billion deal. Comcast, already the largest cable operator in South Florida, said it will take over Adelphia's operations throughout the state.