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by Julie R. Cryser
If you're watching Nick at Nite but don't pay for cable, you have one chance to make things right with CVI Time Warner Cable in Clarksburg before you could face cable theft charges.
CVI, which serves customers in Fairmont, Bridgeport and Clarksburg, hired a Pittsburgh firm to go from cable pole to cable pole to find out who is illegally hooked to cable service. The audit, kicked off in Fairmont Monday, should last about 12 weeks, said Lenny Hannigan, general manager of the Clarksburg company.
"It's an opportunity for us to verify service," Hannigan said. "We will be checking the entire system."
The company has been running 30-second spots on cable stations warning customers that tapping into cable lines to get free service is illegal. The company will offer amnesty for those who turn themselves in before the auditors catch them, Hannigan said.
"If folks realize they have cable and they are not paying for it, they can come to us," he said. The company has agreed not to prosecute people who turn themselves in and ask to become paying customers.
Those who don't turn themselves in could face financial penalties and jail time. First-time offenders could receive fines of $100 to $250, while second-time offenders could get up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine of $250 to $500. A third conviction has a penalty of 30 to 60 days in jail and/or a $500 to $1,000 fine.
"As we find these, it will be necessary for us to provide the evidence to the police and prosecute these folks," Hannigan said.
Cable theft costs companies $4 billion annually in lost profits, and cities suffer from a loss of franchise fees and business and occupation taxes, Hannigan said.
"It costs the company money; it costs everybody money in the long run," he said.
The audit is the last step in the cable company's upgrade. In December, the company finished wire and cable capacity increases, as well the installation of two-way technology so customers could have pay-per-view by pressing a button.
Hannigan said, however, this won't be the last audit.
"We do an on-going random audit and that's just selecting addresses here and there," he said.