A yearlong effort by Lawrence-based Sunflower Broadband has led to the discovery of hundreds of area households that are stealing cable services, the company reported Thursday.
Patrick Knorr, general manager for the cable, Internet and telecommunications company, estimated an audit conducted by Sunflower found about 200 offenders.
"The point that we are trying to get across is that this is no different than someone shoplifting from a store," Knorr said.
In most cases the company has negotiated agreements with offenders that allow them to voluntarily become paying subscribers to the cable system. But Knorr said the company had filed legal actions against about six offenders and so far had reached settlements in four of the cases. The offenders have been fined from a few hundred dollars to $2,500, he said. The company also is pursuing legal action to collect legal fees in some of the cases.
Sunflower Broadband -- which serves about 35,000 households in Lawrence, Eudora, Tonganoxie, Basehor, Piper and parts of Leavenworth County -- is owned by The World Company, which owns the Lawrence Journal-World.
Knorr estimated the company loses in excess of $100,000 a year in revenue from cable theft. But he said cable theft also had the potential to affect the quality of service paying customers receive.
"Many of these people who are illegally tapping into the systems aren't professionals and they usually damage the cable system in the process," Knorr said. "That creates problems for their neighbors who are paying for the service."
Knorr said the company identified many of the illegal connections after receiving a service call from a neighbor complaining about cable quality.
The company also launched an effort to raise awareness of the issue and make it easier for customers to report suspected cable theft. Sunflower has been running a series of television commercials detailing the problems created by cable theft, and has launched a Web site -- www.cabletheft.com -- for people to anonymously report suspected theft.
"We hear from a lot of people who said they thought the guy down the hall was stealing cable, but they really didn't want to create any problems for him," Knorr said. "But once they hear that guy is the reason they're having problems with their cable, they're a lot more ready to report him, especially when they can do it anonymously."