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Cable Companies Continue Fight Against Pirated Cable

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RALEIGH — Despite ad campaigns, federal indictments, and the 7th Commandment, people continue to watch cable TV illegally.

Cable theft is very real. It is not a game, and consequences can be serious.

Illegal converter boxes or descramblers are sold in magazines, by electronic hobbyists and on the Internet. If you use them to bypass the cable company, you are stealing.

"Illegally taking cable service is a crime, just like any other crime," says Brad Phillips with Time Warner Cable's public affairs.

Magazines carry ads for illegal cable descramblers. There are also e-mail ads for plans and parts that tout "free" premium and pay-per-view services. Building the boxes is not a crime -- using them is.

"If you get those parts to build it, and you have an illegal decoder in your home, then you're illegally stealing service," Phillips said. "You're stealing. There's no other word for it."

Companies, like one closed by the feds this year in Raleigh, build thousands of illegal decoders.

"It's costing our industry billions of dollars every year," Phillips said. "So we are looking at, and taking legal action against, those companies."

Cable boxes are monitored by cable companies, and they can tell which services you are paying for.

Some Web sites that sell plans and descramblers put the responsibility on the buyer to notify their cable company that they are using their own decoder.

Phillips contends that action is a legal loophole and in no way lessens the crime of cable theft.

AnFCCruling will, sometime in the future, allow consumers to buy their own converter boxes from retail stores. However, those converters will be controlled by security cards that would allow access only to cable channels which are paid for.