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Comcast in Court, AT&T Gets Greedy 251

raindr writes "The Detroit News has this article on how comcast is going after people with modified Cable TV boxes.These fines (170k) seem a bit much to me." They apparantly send out a "bullet" to deactivate modded boxes. In other coax news,Shynedog writes " is running a story about AT&T broadband users in the Northeast who are complaining about the unfair price hike that has been imposed on subscribers who own their own modems. It the wake of recent customer complaints, AT&T has started offering coupons to offset the monthly increase, but only for the next six months."
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Comcast in Court, AT&T Gets Greedy

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  • Hrrm... (Score:1, Informative)

    by ObitMan ( 550793 )
    1. Steal
    2. Get caught
    3. Get punished

    Yeah sounds about right.
    • 3. Get punished

      And pay about 170 times the value of what you stole, which seems pretty excessive to me. If we're going to put people into debt for most of their lives for stealing what probably amounts to less than $1000 worth of merchandise, why don't we just chop their hands off, too?
      • And pay about 170 times the value of what you stole, which seems pretty excessive to me.

        Since this is a civil suit, you can be pretty sure that this figure will be adjusted down. It's common to start of high as a scare tactic and hope that the issue will be settled out of court.

        Also, bear in mind that Comcast could have chosen to press criminal charges, which would have resulted in both a hefty fine AND time spent in jail.

  • ...the cable companies claim that these illegal boxes actually degrade the quality for all becuase it introduces resistance to the line for everyone else making all these "bad guys" into "your enemy too" type targets... it sick
  • I'd recommend anyone who is offended by the tactics of cable companies to simply quit subscribing to cable at all.

    When we watch tv we are wasting time when we could be doing something productive, and if you want good entertainment you can always rent a movie. Tv is full of ads, many of which are from the large, rich, dmca loving companies that we all dispise. Why would anyone want to PAY to watch disney, or NBC, or warner? By doing that we are simply funding the companies that are destroying all our freedom. Tv is also controlled by americans, and I've seen my local canadian television go downhill when faced against the behemoth of american corporate television. Kids are being brainwashed and having their brains rot from imported japanese tv such as pokemon, which are basically hallucinogenic sessions.

    I say pull the cable plug out for good, we no longer need to be mindless zombies of the media.
  • What about people with modified cable modems? They should be sued too for the extra bandwidth they get!

    (ok, it's the ISDN/128K user in me that talks now)

  • "Theft of cable TV costs the industry an estimated $6 billion a year, according to the National Cable Television Association."

    So they are suing them for 170,000 each.. at that rate there is only roughly a little more then 35,000 people in the US stealing cable. Doesn't seem like very many people to be worried about.. and thats spread out across the whole US.. wonder if those stats include Sat Theft too?

    • OK I'm really confused now.. I got this email from the post above I placed saying someone has give modded me up +1. So i go back to look at all the comments and choose to read at level 3 to see my post easier.. Gee at the time now(10 mins after i got the email) there are no level 3 posts..
      Ok i'm thinkin i'll go to my preferences & see how/why it was modded back down. Well I go there and there is nothing listed for that comment as rated +1 interesting as the email tells me or anything bringing it back down to 2.

      So what gives? Are the slashdot editors lowering comments they don't like or approve of?

      heres the email headers below.. and i still haven't got any email sayin I was modded back down.. Seriously what gives here?

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  • I don't think AT&T has gotten greedy yet. They provide me with a 1.5 Megabit downstream and 384 Kilabit upstream 24 hours a day / 7 days a week. To get this kind of link with a DSL line, the prices start around $80 a month in my area, and AT&T is giving me this for around $50. I don't think it's in any of our rights to complain. They have the best deal going! Come on people, get real. Bandwidth isn't cheap. At least it's not a 3GB cap or something stupid like that.
    • All right I think you missed why these people are pissed off. They BOUGHT thier cable modems outright, so now they don't have to pay the leasing charge on the modem itself. AT&T changed thier pricing, now the people who BOUGHT thier cable modems are paying THE SAME PRICE as the people that lease the cable modem. Thier price was jacked up for NO REASON. Basically, AT&T is charging more for the same service because they bought thier modems.

      Imagine this, AT&T gives you basic cable and leases you a TV for some amount of money. You go out and buy a TV and have them take back thier TV. Now your bill goes down because you're not paying for the lease on the TV anymore. Say, 2 years later, and AT&T raises your monthly charge. Now you go over to your friend's house and complain about the rate hike, and he doesn't know what the hell you're talking about. Your friend leases his TV and has the same cable service you do. You compare bills and they are the same. WTF? How come his servce+device monthly charge is the same price as your just service charge.

      These people do have a legitimate gripe.
      • So maybe AT&T has made up for the cost of the cable modems, but not the cost of maintaining their network. So they no longer need to charge extra for leasing a modem, but they need to recoop charges from everyone to pay for the network. 24 months * $10 = $240, which should pay for a pretty nice cable modem. :-)

        I don't see why people who own their cable modems have to have a devine right to lower priced service, particularly if it doesn't cost the cable company more.
        • 24 months * $10 = $240, which should pay for a pretty nice cable mode

          If you read the article it ends up being $240 / $3 = 80 months. This is because rental is now apparently $3 per month and you only get the $10 per month if you post in the $7 coupons. And this will only apply to existing modem owners.

          I would figure that ATT was making a good income from modem rentals and since people were starting to buy the modems, they were losing that income and they needed to make up for it somehow.

        • I don't see why people who own their cable modems have to have a devine right to lower priced service

          They DON'T have a divine right to lower priced SERVICE. Service is the keyword. They are providing a service. They are charging for that service. the people that lease the modem are paying for the service PLUS the lease on the modem. The people who own the modem are ONLY paying for the service. AT&T changed the price, so that if you bought your modem the price for the SERVICE is the same as paying for the service plus the modem. AT&T is now saying that there are in fact 2 different prices for the exact same service, depending on if you own the equipment or not.

          Let me try a different tack here. Let's say AOL has this deal where you pay for their service and they lease you a computer to use it with...say $70/month total...that'd be $22 for the SERVICE and $48 for the computer. Now let's say you bought that comptuer and just wanted the service. You pay the $22/month for the service. Suddenly they change the deal. You own the computer but they are charging the full $70. basically they say the service is $70. But the people who lease are still paying the same $70. AOL would be saying that the service is $70 a month if you own your own computer. But the service is only $22 if you lease a computer from us for $48, but it's the exact same service.

          My point is, for the exact same service, the price for that service should be the same. Why should people who are paying only for the service pay more for that service than people who are also getting the hardware to go with it?
    • Think of it as chipping away.

      First owner of Modems - 90% say it not me.

      Next it is tiered pricing - 90% say it not me.

      Next content control - 90% say it not me.

      Next bandwidth limits - oh yeah it already here!

      Over Subscribe the channel - 1.5M down is maximum at 3 AM when your nieghbors are a sleep.
    • I wouldn't count on AT&T to maintain their current pricing all that much longer. I just think they're trying to decide how to charge for different tiers of consumer service.From the article:

      She said consistent pricing will enable the company to offer future deals to its customers, including the tiering of Internet speeds. She said the tiering of speeds might come as early as this summer, but declined to comment further.

      • I don't think AT&T has gotten greedy yet.
      Excuse me? This is the same company that imposes a floor on long distance usage -- 3$ per month minimum. They claim this is for "billing overhead" which is 150% complete bullshit; it pads their bottom line by hundred of millions per month.

      Read your contract. Your 50$ does not buy you continuous 1.5/384 service. If you sling your full rate "24 hours a day / 7 days a week", I'd give it two weeks before AT&T terminates your service (with a good chance of it being perminant termination.)
  • by CptnKirk ( 109622 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @04:17AM (#3671694)
    I'd be interested to know how this 'bullet' technology works. I know a few people who have been having problems with the receivers in their VCRs (they choose not to rent a box and don't have premium/PPV channels) lately. Sure it could be a flaky VCR, but it's happened to more than one person with newish VCRs.

    If Comcast is found to be damaging personal hardware with their 'bullet' it would be funny if those users were able to clame irreparable harm and sue for millions. In short, I think that Comcast better be very careful where they point their guns. In the end this can only be bad for them.
    • The "magic bullet" is basically malformed code that the descrambling computer chokes on. It can't hurt your VCR, because your VCR doesn't descramble anything.
      • by Raetsel ( 34442 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @07:07AM (#3671955)

        This is analog cable they are talking about here. Calling it "code" makes it sound much more complicated than it actually is. Not that it could harm a VCR (or TIVO) anyway...

        I remember the last time the "magic bullet" issue came up. This was several years ago, and it was TCI (the company AT&T bought out) doing it, IIRC.

        Shortly after news of the coup hit the press, I started hearing about "magic bullet filters." They were sold under various names (both vague and unabashedly direct!), and were a shockingly simple notch filter.

        That's it -- just a little circuit and resistor to keep the signal levels in safe limits for your pirate converter box. What I just read sounds very similar to what I remember:

        1. TCI went to General Instrument (the cable box manufacturer), and said "Okay, if you wanted to pirate cable, how would you do it?"

        2. General Instrument got hold of some of the "aftermarket" equipment, and reverse-engineered it.

          (We're two R-E steps out, now... first the pirates were figuring out the scrambling and getting into "test mode," the second was General Instrument figuring out what differences there were between the 'official' systems and the aftermarket ones.)

        3. General Instrument figures out a signal they can inject into the cable system that will not affect 'legal' boxes, but will overdrive sections of the aftermarket chips -- thus doing irreperable damage, and rendering the cable box inoperative.

        4. TCI injects this signal into their system, and everyone who complains about dead cable receives a rather shocking bill. (If I remember news reports properly, it was $500 - $1000 and a promise to behave. It's been a while.)
        Memory is a bit rusty, but that's pretty much how I remember it happening. I can't believe this old trick still works...

  • by samjam ( 256347 )
    It costs time and money to handle complaints.

    If your company is taking you for a ride with price, and there are no alternatives:

    Talk slowly and eloquently, explain the situation, mention what you are and are not happy with etc.

    You should be able to draw the complaint out to about half an hour, and if nothing happens, try again 2 or 3 weeks later.
  • As true as the title I've affixed to this post may be, and as much as the broadband companies use the concept to justify their actions, there is also another truth. The choice to subscribe to a company's service is a right which cannot be taken away from you.

    You will not die without broadband. You will not die without the Internet. Probably, your life will be enriched without it.
    • Oh, sure. I know there are people who use the Internet as a tool. But some of us practically live on it. I have more friends online than in real life, and losing internet access would be extremely depressing to me. Even losing ADSL would be quite hard because it would be much harder to talk to people from other countries.
    • That won't make these people feel any less cheated. Yes, they can take their business elsewhere, but what about that cable modem they've already bought? As the article said, it was an act of faith in the company, a guarantee of staying with them until at least the modem itself was paid off. By switching the pricing scheme to target these people specifically, AT&T is basically saying "up yours" to these people.

      So why shouldn't they feel upset at this again?

      Just because Internet access is not a right (although I'd call it a luxury rather than privilege, as the term luxury implies that the customer actually gives something back for it) doesn't mean that companies should be screwing with their customers, and it's just plain stupid to screw with their best customers who are willing to pay a premium for a year or more.

      This isn't a story of luxury vs. rights. This is simply a tale of mistreatment of customers.

    • The choice to subscribe to a company's service is a right which cannot be taken away from you.

      You will not die without broadband. You will not die without the Internet. Probably, your life will be enriched without it.

      Society changes. It is influenced by events and technology around it and, in turn, drives technology and events. What was once novel and unique can easily become a common part of life in that society. The trivial can become irreplaceable.

      At one point in time, the telephone was often labled a trivial toy of limited use and predicted to fade into obscurity. Now, the telephone is a key tool for everything from business and employment to emergency service to communications with geographically distant friends and family. It is an indispensible part of many modern societies.

      One can live without a telephone. But you will find yourself seriously limited by it unless you move to an environment where such technology isn't commonly used. You NEED phone access.

      Neal Stephenson makes an interesting observation in his article Mother Earth Mother Board []. Bell sent the world on a technological devolved shunt. For a time, the world's telecommunications technology was digital, ableit of limited capacity. There were some theories towards increasing that capacity but they hadn't panned out (although they are actually the basis of technology being used today). And then Bell had us all going to analog. Its taken us centuries to get back to digital.

      And now we have the Internet. It has the potential to not only absorb the roles of the telephone, but push the realms of communication and data (if it hasn't already). But much of that relies on broadband.

      And because of that, the same concerns which have driven the telecomunications industry through its analog telephone days will continue to drive it well in the the Internet age. What has made telephone service important and ensured that it would be available to all (within some reason) will also eventually drive broadband access.

  • It the wake of recent customer complaints, AT&T has started offering coupons to offset the monthly increase, but only for the next six months.

    They planned on doing this from the very beginning. This is not in response to customer complaints. They knew this would be unpopular and came up with the coupon idea ahead of time.
  • Duh (Score:5, Funny)

    by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @04:29AM (#3671718) Homepage
    We need a financial Darwin Awards. Get this:

    The customers themselves turned over illegally modified cable boxes to the company when the boxes stopped working.

    Call me crazy, but I don't think turning your illegally modified cable descrambler in to the cable company for repair after it stops working due to the cable company deactivating it is a good idea.

    For bonus points, diagram the above sentence.

    • When customers called to say their service was out, Comcast sent a technician or asked subscribers to bring in the box. The company recovered 525 boxes that it said had been modified.
      Several hundred Macomb subscribers received letters from a collection firm hired to recover money for Comcast. Most have already settled. Only people who didn't respond to letters or calls were sued, Hnilica said

      considering that 509 of them took care of it on their own by doing so, and settled out of court, and only 16 of them are being sued for the 170k fine who didnt turn the boxes in...

      who ya think is gonna end up paying less?
    • Yea that's what I was thinking. How else would the cable company even catch you unless you alerted them to the fact?
  • They are always in the same groove:

    Loss, loss, loss... billions...

    As if everyone would subscribe if the boxes would not be around.

    Same goes for software, music - etc..

  • by ddent ( 166525 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @04:37AM (#3671728) Homepage
    I wonder, those 10 subscribers they are suing, who didn't respond to calls. Are they dead? Never existed? Cats? see []
  • The nonsense that the article talks about, recent price hikes, electronic "bullets", etc., are just more examples of what corporations do to protect their cashflow. Who cares about individual rights if the bottom line is looking rosy?

    The cable company that provided service for my dorm last semester ran these ads that encouraged other people to rat out people who were getting free cable. Does anyone else find this really humorous? I mean, if I know someone getting free cable, I'm going to ask them to hook me up, not turn 'em in for some Cable Industry Good Consumer Award.

    Check out the site here [].

    • Who cares about individual rights if the bottom line is looking rosy?

      Ok, clue me in here. What rights? Right to steal cable? Right to underpriced broadband? I'm not sure what rights of yours these companies are violating.
    • Look at the whois results for

      If this site is legitimate why is the information bogus?

  • If you're trying to simplify life then removing the distractions will help greatly.
  • by leereyno ( 32197 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @04:58AM (#3671767) Homepage Journal
    Their first mistake was to modify a box that the cable company owned. They should have bought a descrambler of their own on the grey market. These 3rd party descrablers are "bullet" proof anyway which would have completely solved the problem altogether before it started. Their second mistake was calling the cable company and complaining when their modified box stopped working. They should have been FAR more cautious than that. If I hacked something and it stopped working the first thing I'd assume is that it was either something I did or something the cable company did in response. I would have checked to see whether the box was still good, which is as simple as connecting the cable straight to the tv. At that point I'd take steps to replace the box on my own, or at the very least undo the hack, assuming that was possible, before handing it over to the cable company.

    I heard of this same tactic being used when I was living in DC back in the late 80's. You would think that people would be wise to it by now.

    I'll bet you that of the people who are stealing cable in that region, all that were caught were fools and idiots. Anyone with a brain would not be so easily busted. I figure the 170k is nothing more than a stupidity tax, something I never ever see a problem with.

    A word of advice to all those who would break the law or do something that could get them in trouble, develop some street smarts and an ounce of common sense beforehand.

    • YOU WIN! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TheSHAD0W ( 258774 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @05:20AM (#3671798) Homepage
      On the topic of stupid cable thieves who get tricked into turning themselves in, I just wanted to mention another trick the cable companies have pulled in the past.

      You'd be watching your show, and right when the movie was due to begin, you'd see a message saying you won a prize (new TV, whatever), and to call a number to claim it. When you called and gave your name and address, you'd then wind up losing your cable service and/or having to pay a fine or go to court.

      What happened? The cable company scrambled that ad with a key that no one was supposed to be set up to receive. But the modified boxes would treat it as a regular scrambled show and decode it. So only the cable pirates would get the message.
    • by 0xA ( 71424 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @06:30AM (#3671890)
      Their second mistake was calling the cable company and complaining when their modified box stopped working. They should have been FAR more cautious than that.

      I've almost done something similar. A couple months ago my cable went out for 3 days, I got pissed and called the cable company as there was something I wanted to watch that night. Thank god I was stuck on hold for a few minutes, it gave me time to realize that I hadn't ever had my cable service setup. The previous occupant of my apartment had it and while he cancled his account (no bill in the mail) they never deactivated the cable. I hung up before someone picked up the call, thank god.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 10, 2002 @05:23AM (#3671803)
    Our company does some business with ATT and have access to their Broadband information via employees (hence my anonymous, and hence a lack of specific geography).

    One of the "goodies" that will be coming up after the Comcast/ATT merger will be the sudden announcement of all current home users to a 256K cap on bandwidth, and the next level (384K) will be available as a "premium" service for about $80 per month, with no static IP.

    Businesses will get the 384K service and a static IP for $375/month, according to the source. The point behind this is that ATT doesn't want any home user to have static IP, and are going to try and price it outside the reach of the average person's ability to pay.

    We're volume profit, while businesses are pure profit.

    Also, one last point...the 'free ride' on ATT is over. On or about July 1, they will be installing what I've been told is the "new Cisco software" which will prevent anyone from homesteading IP addresses as has been the case. Apparently, the dynamic IPs will override the static IP in the present software, which means that when ATT went to a business, they could not guarantee that the IP address wasn't already taken by DHCP for a home user.

    With the "new business model" that the merger will bring, the home user will have services cut and prices raised, which will subsidize the business services to the point where those monthly service charges from business will be pure profit at our expense.

    It won't interfere with general service, but if you've not had your IP switched on you for a while, you'll likely lose service until you reboot your home network.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      I am under a NDA, thus the Anonymous post...

      Several points here (and in the original post) are wrong.

      1. The complainers in the NE region are not the reason for these coupons. The coupons were part of the deal from the beginning. In fact not all areas are receiving coupons, some are getting automatic credit on their statement. This is not due to complaints, this was setup at the onset and was due to *state* laws that require 6mo's prior notification. They gave the notice, the did the price increase, and they gave credit.

      2. People who use "rogue" IPs (intentionally or not) are already being disabled by the NOC. They are found, disabled, and must call up to have their account re-enabled.

      Most areas have already been pushed to a 256k upstream cap, some other areas will be moved later.
  • by Alsee ( 515537 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @05:24AM (#3671806) Homepage
    When customers called to say their service was out, Comcast sent a technician or asked subscribers to bring in the box.

    You should always take any dead bodies out of your car before dropping it off at the service station.

  • 170K ought to be enough for anyone ...
  • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @05:47AM (#3671839) Homepage
    In theory:
    1. Offer a better product at a lower price.
    2. Gain market share.
    3. Spend the money on creating better and cheaper products.
    4. GOTO 1.
    In practice:
    1. Follow the theory, burning venture capital money, until you have a significant number of customers tied in to long term relationships.
    2. Decide how much profit you deserve, and set your prices accordingly. Every time a customer leaves (if you've been kind enough to allow them contracts that let them leave) crank up the costs to the remaining customers. The beauty of this method is that while it seems like only idiots would tolerate it, you just rebrand yourself as a "prestige service", and as long as you have one idiot left willing to pay your price, it works.
    3. Offer a great package to new customers, and then as soon as they sign on the dotted line, begin a campaign of abuse in tandem with FUD until they become so beaten and cynical that they believe it's pointless even changing to another supplier.
    4. Constantly cut back on staff while giving multi-million dollar rewards to your executives for their bold cost saving initiatives. Refer to this funelling of money from many purchasers to a few major stock holders as "stimulating the economy". And remember guys, get that money offshore as soon as possible, so that the evil IRS can't steal it and spend it on schools and hospitals!
    5. Spend the money you save on telling your customers what great value for money they're getting. Anything left goes into a college fund - for sending the children of friendly Congressmen and Senators through college, of course.
    6. GOTO 2, until your last customer leaves, or you spread your campaign contributions too thin and the DOJ, SEC or FTC finally point out that the emperor has no clothes on.

    Overly cynical, or an honest assessment of how a system composed of a few huge imcumbents actually works in practice? Make your own mind up.

  • It really and truly sucks AT&T has decided to impose a rate hike on people choosing not to get screwed up the ass by them. Logically it makes sense, for every user not using an AT&T modem they're missing out on the rental fee of that modem. You can be sure the cost of the modem itself has amortized so only a fraction of the rental fee is actually used to cover the cost of it which they got at wholesale prices. Say they make five bucks a month off each rented modem, that is nice chunk of change when all of your subscribers are renting modems. Taking away a couple million free dollars from someone is going to make them pretty angry. However, thats the ropes of an industry with published standards. A DOCSIS capable modem is going to work on their network, paying customers ought not be prevented from buying their own modems.

    There is some crappy legistlation around for cable television boxes that I hope doesn't end up repeated with cable modems. Under FCC rules a cable operator can't prevent you from buying your own cable equipment and using it as long as it conforms to all regulations and specifications. The crappy part is those rules don't prohibit a cable operator from requiring you rent some ludicrous piece of equipment like a remote control or converter. What I hope doesn't happen is the cable operators being required to let people buy their DOCSIS compliant modems buy they have to lease something as trivial as a T-splitter. This is bad legistlation and it would be shitty if it was applied to cable modems. However, there are also rules stating that a cable subscriber can set up all of their own equipment which makes me wonder how the circular logic if allowing an operator to require the lease of some piece of equipment while also maintaining that subscribers can maintain their own equipment.
    • You said it yourself. The model doesn't cost $10 a month to rent. As such they've LOWERED the rental fee to something that better describes it and removed the modem rental fee subsidising the internet service(s).

      As such, they've raised the price of those who bought their own modems to something more reasonable given that modems don't cost $10 a month -- and they no longer have the subsidy of customers who do rent their modems.

      Given the above, reworded version what you said, they've actually corrected a problem which was screwing over a majority of their customer base for the benefit of a few.

  • Anyone else see this link: []

    God damn that's funny. I wonder if that actually works, I suppose you'd get some info from pissed off romantic partners or something.

    Anybody know if we can get the addresses of AT&T's board members from the SEC or something?

    • I looked around that site and found this little gem []:

      "Even more serious, lives can be endangered by the shoddy work of cable thieves. Cable's usually "closed-circuit" distribution system can be compromised, resulting in interference with aeronautic radio navigation signals and emergency service radio transmissions. "

      For the love of god don't steal cable anymore or you'll crash and airplane!
      • It may sound silly but it is true. Leaky cable systems can interfere with aircraft communications and navigation, and with othered licensed radio services. What they didn't mention is that the FCC cracked down on cable system operators over this issue because of the poor installation and maintenance practices of many cable systems. They bought cheap coax and equipment and refused to maintain it properly. It isn't a problem of "pirates", it's a problem of poorly installed and maintained video distribution systems.
  • by Roblimo ( 357 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @06:58AM (#3671933) Homepage Journal
    We subscribe to Roadrunner + TW's basic cable in Bradenton, FL. One day we get our bill and the cable portion has jumped from ~$12 to over $40. I call, they say we're getting premium cable service, they've run a system audit, they're charging us what they should have charged us all along.

    I'm like, "Say what?" You suddenly decide to give us and charge us for service we never ordered? Take it off our bill.

    TW Rep: "I can't do that. You're enjoying the premium service and must pay for it."

    Back and forth, no supervisor around, I call back the next day. TW assumption is that we have climbed the pole and removed a filter. I haven't. Our neighbors are in the their 70s and probably haven't either. I finally get bumped far enough up the TW customer "service" chain to get the charge removed, but not until after I file a (still unanswered) complaint with the FL Dept. of Consumer Affairs does the excess charge actually come off our bill.

    The installer who comes out the next day to put on the correct filter says this happens all the time, that the day before he was out at the house of another suspected "cable pirate" who was in his 80s, in a wheelchair, and on a respirator, who sure hadn't been climbing poles, and had been paying the overcharge for months until his son came to visit and noticed his oversized cable bill.

    The installer said the filters were often defective, that this was the problem more often than people stealing cable service, but that the company just assumed everyone was a thief and charged them no matter what.

    I talked to the system's marketing manager. He told me almost all of the people who got extra service were stealing it on purpose, which contradicted the installer's comments. I don't know who to believe, but I am suspicious.

    At least in FL I have a choice of 2 cable Internet service providers and a dozen DSL providers, and it's far enough south that sat TV is clear. In MD (my other residence) my only broadband Internet alternative is Comcast, and they suck so badly I endure a phone modem here, and we're in a tree-lined valley where satellite TV won't work.

    Too bad FCC Chairman Powell loves and trusts cable TV companies so much that he doesn't mind them holding defacto monopolies over bradband Internet in much of the country. He ought to go to work for one of them if he loves them so much, and get off the public payroll, since he's not willing to lift a finger to help the citizens who pay his salary keep the cable TV operators from screwing them.

    - Robin

    • by Tim C ( 15259 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @08:45AM (#3672176)
      I talked to the system's marketing manager. He told me almost all of the people who got extra service were stealing it on purpose, which contradicted the installer's comments. I don't know who to believe, but I am suspicious.

      Personally, I'd believe the installer. The marketing manager is a manager, and so a) may well not know what conditions are really like out in the field, and b) regardless, must reiterate the company's official stance.

      The installer, on the other hand, is "just an ordinary joe", and (as long as he doesn't get quoted and named) can pretty much say whatever he wants.


    • I talked to the system's marketing manager. He told me almost all of the people who got extra service were stealing it on purpose, which contradicted the installer's comments. I don't know who to believe, but I am suspicious.

      Remember, the marketing manager gets paid to beat the truth so thin you can see through it. Besides, when have you ever met a marketing person prone to telling the truth about *anything*?
    • I talked to the system's marketing manager. He told me almost all of the people who got extra service were stealing it on purpose, which contradicted the installer's comments. I don't know who to believe, but I am suspicious.

      Two of the definite rules of all TV/cable/modem/phone services:

      1. The grunt in overalls that comes to your house and installs or fixes your stuff is telling the truth, unless he's an independant contractor that has something to sell you.

      2. "Marketing" or "manager" = liar, even worse if the two words are used together.
      • I was being polite by giving the marketing guy the benefit of the doubt. He's a middle manager who must defend the indefensible if he wants to keep his job.

        He didn't sound like he enjoyed saying what he was supposed to say, either.

        I really feel sorry for the front-line customer "service" rep I talked to first, who said, "What they tell me to tell you is..." about TW Cable's inane "anti-piracy" (really anti-customer) policy.

        - Robin
  • "Theft of cable TV costs the industry an estimated $6 billion a year, according to the National Cable Television Association."

    I hate these kind of fabricated numbers - the question is, would the 11 million people who are supposedly stealing cable and sat services (more detail here []) have really bought 6 billion bucks worth of programming and pay-per-view if they didn't have their illegal access. I think their number would be far lower.

    That's like the recording industry claiming massive theft when someone downloads a popular single they heard on the radio - would that person have actually gone out and purchased the CD for that song if the file-sharing apps weren't around? I doubt it, at least most of the time. I know I download hundreds of tunes that I never would have considered buying in the first place (but may now purchase because I get to hear what the CD sounds like - but that's a different argument...)

    If I had access to free pay-per-view, I'd watch almost every movie out there, as I'm a huge movie buff. But I don't have free access, and I've never purchased a single pay-per-view program - how can the cable company claim any losses?

    • The 6 billion/year figure also takes into account the amount of money to hire, train, and equip the security department that goes out and checks for cable theft, as well as the audit patrols(I'm willing to guess that is most of the 6 billion/year...). It's very expensive stuff. So in that respects, cable theft is causing real financial damage to cable companies, who in turn raise the ates to compensate.

    • by fishbowl ( 7759 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @11:03AM (#3672821)
      I think that before they are allowed to claim the loss in court, they should be obligated to claim the loss on their tax. If they are willing to justify $6B to the IRS auditors, then I'm okay with them claiming the loss here. I'm guessing they don't have enough confidence in that number to do so.

      Saying that you have a loss to the IRS without a clear papertrail that arrives at that figure happens to be a much bigger crime than "stealing cable."

  • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @07:30AM (#3671992) Homepage

    (Before you mod this as troll or flamebait, please do me and the community the courtesy of reading to the end to see the point that I'm making)

    • Comcast Corp. has taken an unprecedented step in Michigan to stop customers from stealing premium cable television

    Replace with "obtaining access to a shared resource without paying the agreed price"

    • rigging illegal access to premium channels and pay-per-view movies

    Replace with "access in excess of their contracted level"

    • The customers themselves turned over illegally modified cable boxes

    Replace with "cable boxes modified in breach of their contract".

    • Theft of cable TV costs the industry an estimated $6 billion a year

    Replace with "Unauthorized access to the shared resource" and "lowers the maximum possible hypothetical gross earnings of the industry by"

    • "The chosen route is really to try to educate people that stealing cable is a crime,"

    Replace with "obtaining access to a shared analog resource in excess of your contract is a breach of that contract, and a possible breach of copyright, both of which are actionable in civil lawsuits, but neither of which can be prosecuted as criminal acts."

    Gosh, what a change that makes. And yet my interpretation is closer to the one that a court will use to determine the type and degree of offence here, because it will actually deal with what the law says, and not what Comcast wishes that it says.

    Some context: I neither perform nor endorse obtaining access to cable content in excess of your contract. I thoroughly welcome individual lawsuits against individuals who do this (rather than against those providing the tools, or legislating against technology), and indeed any suit that makes individuals responsible for their actions. I understand that these suits are civil only because the devices in question are analog, and that under the DMCA, modifying a digital device to obtain access to copyighted content would be a criminal offence.

    But what I will not let slip by is the manipulation of language and law to create a crime where none exists, nor will I accept the use of hate speech to brand end consumers as criminals when breach of contract in the business world is spun as oversight, regrettable necessity or overzealous compliance with the fiduciary duty to maximise profit. When a business breaches contract law by (e.g.) trying to enforce an unreasonable contract clause, do we call them criminals and jail them as a menace to society? No, we say that they are behaving unreasonably, that they are in breach of contract law, we (perhaps) levy a small fine, and we instruct them to comply with both the letter and spirit of the contract. That is all.

    These people obtaining premium cable are in breach of contract. That, and only that. They are not criminals, and I rather hope that some of them invest in a libel suit to demonstrate that.

    • errr, no.

      Cable fraud is a federal criminal offense. You can go to jail for a long time if you commit the offense. Moreover, it is most likely not a breach of contract, since the folks who were stealing the cable likely never signed a contract saying "I will not try to access more programming than the programming for which I am paying." The cable company has no need to make people sign contracts like that precsiely b/c stealing cable access *is* a crime.
    • Uhhh... No (Score:3, Informative)

      by sheldon ( 2322 )
      But what I will not let slip by is the manipulation of language and law to create a crime where none exists

      47 USC 553 and 605 make cable theft a federal crime. 3. htm 5. htm

      I give your post a 9.5 on style, but I'm afraid you receive a 2.0 on content due to the inappropriate manipulation of language.
        • 47 USC 553 and 605 make cable theft a federal crime.

        Hellfire and damnation. Every day is a lesson that Big Government is bigger than you can possibly imagine. You know, it must be tricky being an attorney for a content producer/distributor these days. You've got so many statutes to choose from. Hey, but on the bright side, the time you spend picking one is all billable.

        Well, thanks for the references. Interesting point that they raise is that the maximum fine is explicitely $2000 for non-commercial violation, plus actual damages (lost revenue) plus statuatory damages up to $10,000. That doesn't come to $170,000. Oh, unless you include legal fees, which this statute very handily does. Then the sky's the limit (what with picking the right law to use, and all that). And of course you can always be jailed for six months as well, and Uncle Sam will pick up the bill for that.

        OK, I'm going to go and sulk in my Y2K shelter now and wait for the revolution. I'm sticking to my guns on one thing though: I believe (although apparently Uncle Sam doesn't) that obtaining unpaid for cable access is quite clearly wrong, but that it should be a civil matter that government has no business interfering with or paying tax money to enforce. But apparently I'm not keeping up to date with just how many laws that brib^H^H^H^H campaign contributions have bought. :-(

        • OK, I'm going to go and sulk in my Y2K shelter now and wait for the revolution.

          Hmm, I bet slashdot just got served with a FISA warrant [] for their log files...

        • What get's me is the...

          Fine of $1000 or prison for six months.

          Uhh, I don't know how much most people get paid, but I'll take the fine! I think I could make more than $1000 in six months working at Burger King.

          As far as the government enforcing such laws. The problem is that when you get things like Napster out there, it does not take much of a genius to argue before the government that we need laws to protect our companies from such things. The fact that kids are still promoting this P2P crap is actually making their cause worse in many ways.


  • by jekk ( 15278 ) <> on Monday June 10, 2002 @08:00AM (#3672053) Homepage
    On the AT&T article is a link to the cable theft [] site. This is a wonderful location, where you are encouraged to (anonmously) rat on your friends and neighbors for stealing cable. Just for fun, I suggest you stop by this site and enter the name and address of your local govener, mayor, or other upstanding citizen.

    These "rat on your neighbors" programs (Business Software Alliance in particular, but the principle is general) REALLY get on my nerves. Guilty if accused is a BADLY broken policy and needs to be driven home to everyone.

  • I think the fines should be higher for cable theft, and even add jail time. Hey, If I walk into a store and Steal $130.00 a month worth of merchandise, or better yet phone cards to be more akin to a service theft... I'd be publically fried and jailed, yet people think that cracking down on cable service theft is unfair. Great! please tell me where you live so I may run extension cords to your house and a Hose from your outside faucet.. it's my right to steal from you....

    also, if you dont like your cablemodem price hike... BOO-FRICKING-HOO... get something else. and if cable is the only broadband, then quit whining about the cost of your luxuries...
    • Cable theft isn't theft, it's contract infringement. That's still a Bad Thing, but it's nothing like walking into a store and stealing merchandise (or phone cards). Personally, I take the position that if someone sends a signal onto your property, you should be able to do whatever the hell you want with it (and that the appropriate thing for them to do is to keep the signal off your property or use technological measures if they don't want you accessing it).

      I don't steal cable. I don't have cable. I don't own a TV. But I also don't like having the government tell me what I can do with signals going onto my own property (though I have no problem whatsoever with the civil courts upholding a contract I signed in return for basic cable).
  • Ok, I'm in the Northeast, I've got a cable modem, I've got AT&T.

    How do I get the coupon? It wasn't in the story, does anyone know?
  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @09:02AM (#3672241) Homepage
    I don't know why so many businesses these days are going out of their way to punish their existing customers. It seems as if practically every business now offers deals to new customers that are not available to their loyal customers.

    I wonder what management text or B-school case study they get THAT advice out of?

    To avoid getting shafted, you practically have to PLAN on switching credit cards, banks, phone companies, etc. annually.
    • Well, probly because they already have said customers business, and said customer is probly already bound by a 12-24 month contract they can't get out of without paying up. The new customer, on the other hand, isn't paying up so they make it look "more attractive" to "lure" the potential customer into a 12-24 month contract.

      It's not the best way to to business, but if people keep doing business that way, then appearantly it's not bothering too many people. I suspect that's why they make it so difficult to get set up and why the lengthy contracts... so people don't want to go elsewhere or can't...

  • Let's take a deep breath. Yes fining people a lot of money for stealing cable does seem excessive. Yes random price hikes are unfair. Yes, for some people, these companies have no real competition. Yes, corporations are evil and they should respect their customer. But this is what corporations do. The corporations can get away with it because people believe they have a basic right to these non-critical services. Cable companies, especially, will charge whatever they want because people will pay.

    For example, there is little on cable that is necessary. It is nice to have. I once had it. Don't have it anymore. The cable kept going out and it took several days on each incident to fix it. I got rid of cable because it was causing more frustration that it was worth. I miss cable, but I am not going to deal with customer service of an hour every few weeks. I can go to two movies a week, or one small concert a week, for what they were charging me for cable. I don't steal cable because it is just not important. I feel sad for people who do.

    DSL is the same thing. I love DSL and I am fortunate that I live in an area with multiple DSL providers. I can get pissed at one and move to another. I understand that not everyone has that luxury, or even can get DSL. But it is just DSL. Like all non-critical products, if it gets too expensive, go to dialup, or cable. It is hard, but the companies have no obligation to charge an amount that fits your budget. It has a responsibility to charge an amount that enough people will pay to maximize profits.

    If we would treat these services as options in our lives, the companies would not likely be so disrespectful. At this point, they feel they are doing us a favor providing such wonderful services at such reasonable prices. These feeling are validated by frantic people calling customer service begging for these services, and apparently unaffected by high prices. They have a good life, and know it.

    If cable and DSL are fundamental rights in our new world, maybe we should regulate them more aggressively. Does it need to cost $30 for basic and $50 for digital cable? Unlikely. Do companies need to make more of an effort getting broadband to the masses? Probably. But it is a catch 22. To make these necessities affordable, like telephone, electricity, and water, they must be regulated. To make a regulated market attractive, the services must be nearly universally used. Many people still chose not to have cable or DSL.

  • Cable companys have been using them for a long time. I belive at one point they where declaired illegal in NY becuase they where destorying VCRs, TVs and what not. Most new TVs and VCRs are designed to handle it. But things like black boxes becuase they change the resistinces will get knocked out by them.

    Face it, you steal cable, thats your risk. It doesn't bother me. It WILL bother me if my VCR, TV or DVD player get killed becuase of it.

  • If YOU had a modified cable box and it stopped working, would you
    #1 - quietly plug the original back in and call the cable company...
    #2 - turn in the 'modified' black market box you got to the cable company and report to jail ?

    If you answered 2 then you should join these other 525 MORONS, in the line for terminally STUPID people.

"It might help if we ran the MBA's out of Washington." -- Admiral Grace Hopper