GCI to knuckle down on cable users who don't pay

Posted: Thursday, August 03, 2000

Consumers illegally receiving GCI Cable can discontinue the service -- no questions asked -- this month.

But after Aug. 31, GCI will begin cracking down on cable theft, which costs the company $5 million per year. Employees across the state will conduct system-wide audits and follow up tips about people who are stealing cable signals.

Locally, GCI system manager Terry Dunlap hasn't seen much of a problem.

``We're not aware of a great theft-of-service problem,'' Dunlap said. ``We have a lot of trained and skilled technicians and instructors. ... We're pretty cognizant of what we're doing in our system here.''

Dunlap estimated there are around 9,000 cable consumers in Juneau. Often, paying customers are the ones suffering from cable theft.

``A lot of times when someone does help themselves to our service, they're taking it from their neighbor,'' Dunlap said. ``I think when people know that something like that's happening, they call someone -- usually us -- and let us know that something doesn't look quite right.''

Cable theft most commonly occurs when people splice into an existing line or use descrambling equipment such as ``black boxes'' to receive channels. It's a federal crime, and if caught, thieves are subject to up to six months in jail and fines up to $1,000.

An informational campaign about the grace period has already begun; ads are running on some of GCI's channels.

``We want to try to get the message out to the public and let everybody know what we're doing,'' Dunlap said.

Illegal cable boxes may be dropped off at GCI, 3161 Channel Drive, Suite 1. Starting next month, customers may anonymously report cable theft by calling (877) 704-4242, or by visiting www.cabletheft.com.

``This is a nationwide issue,'' Dunlap said. He thinks Alaskans will do their part in reporting service theft.

``Juneau's a very close-knit community with a lot of very good people.''

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