By The TV Answer Man team
Comcast says thousands of cable and Internet customers in Northern California lost service earlier this month due to “vandals” cutting into fiber optic lines. However, this is not the first time that a cable/telco company has experienced this issue. In fact, it’s happened countless times over the last several years, including during last February’s Super Bowl, last month in Southern California’s high desert, this week in Berkeley, California, and last May in Kansas City. Although the problem dates back more than a decade, there is little attention paid to it in the media except during each isolated case. But this issue not only affects the telecommunication industry but also disrupts essential services for countless individuals and businesses. Here’s the five major reasons why it’s happening, and will likely continue to happen:
1. The Value of Copper
Copper is a highly sought-after metal in the scrap market due to its versatile properties and recyclability. It conducts electricity efficiently, making it indispensable in the construction of telecommunication cables. As a result, stolen copper from cable TV and fiber facilities can fetch a substantial price on the black market. Criminals recognize this value proposition, and this incentivizes them to target these sites. The irony, of course, is that many of these facilities have little copper, or anything else of significant value, on site but the criminals are not aware of that. “They’re not finding any value because they’re not doing anything with it other than they’re cutting into it looking for something they’re probably not finding,” one Comcast official told KCRA-TV recently.
2. Economic Hardship
One significant factor motivating attempted copper theft is economic hardship. Many individuals, facing financial difficulties or unemployment, view copper theft as a quick way to make money. The relatively low security measures at some cable TV and fiber facilities make them attractive targets. For those in dire financial straits, the allure of selling stolen copper can outweigh the potential legal consequences.
3. Lack of Security Measures
Cable TV and fiber facilities are not always equipped with robust security systems. Some of these locations may be in remote or less-patrolled areas, making them vulnerable to theft. Criminals often take advantage of lax security measures and outdated surveillance systems, making it easier for them to access valuable copper.
4. Rising Scrap Metal Prices
Fluctuations in global scrap metal prices play a significant role in motivating copper theft. When copper prices surge, criminals see a greater potential for profit, driving them to target cable TV and fiber facilities. The profitability of copper theft becomes even more appealing during periods of economic uncertainty or recession when scrap metal prices may rise.
5. Inadequate Legislation and Enforcement
In some regions, inadequate legislation and enforcement against copper theft and the cutting of fiber lines contribute to the problem. Criminals may perceive a low risk of apprehension or lenient penalties for their actions, emboldening them to continue to try stealing copper from cable TV and fiber facilities. (It’s interesting that many stories about the cutting of fiber lines refer to the people responsible as ‘vandals’ rather than criminals.) Stricter regulations and stronger law enforcement efforts are necessary to combat this issue effectively.
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