It worked with cable thieves in Baltimore County, so now Comcast Cable is taking its amnesty campaign to Howard County.
Beginning May 1, cable thieves in Howard County can turn themselves in -- no questions asked -- to Comcast's offspring, Storer/Howard County Cable. The amnesty program will end June 16, when Comcast says it will start prosecuting cable thieves.
The company, which has about 42,000 subscribers in the eastern half of the county, is owned by Storer Communications, which is a subsidiary of Comcast.
Comcast thinks that 3,000 to 5,000 people are stealing service in Howard, denying an estimated $2 million a year in revenue to the company and $100,000 a year in franchise fees for the county. Comcast pays Howard County a fee of 5 percent of its annual revenue.
Comcast's problem is mirrored in neighboring Baltimore County, where the company has about 160,000 subscribers and estimates that 40,000 cable thieves are receiving service for free.
Comcast started an amnesty program in Baltimore County April 2. That program, which ends May 15, has yielded about 3,000 names of reported cable thieves, said David Nevins, a Comcast spokesman.
Most of the calls are from thieves turning themselves in, although the company has had calls from a number of people who wanted to turn in friends, relatives and neighbors.
About half of those who have turned themselves in have decided to keep the service -- and start paying, Mr. Nevins said.
The rest are having service disconnected, he said.
In both counties, Comcast says, it will launch a countywide, house-to-house electronic search to ferret out cable thieves after the amnesty periods end.
Service to those not paying will be disconnected, and their names will be forwarded to the state's attorney's office for prosecution.
If the state's attorney's office declines to prosecute, Comcast could bring civil action against the offenders.
In Maryland, cable theft is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $500 fine.
Cable thieves in Howard County who want to turn themselves in should call Storer at (410) 461-1156.