Super Bowl Sunday this weekend could be followed by Blue Monday if Howard County residents who are illegally receiving cable television service don't 'fess up.
Storer/Howard Cable Television is allowing those who have their homes hooked up for cable programming without paying for the service to turn themselves in to the company by Sunday with no questions asked and no risk of prosecution.
But once the monthlong amnesty ends, Storer/Howard Cable TV pledges to prosecute those who are detected receiving cable illegally.
Storer/Howard General Manager Tom Beach said he is pleased that the company has been receiving about 100 calls a day during the amnesty and that many have asked to subscribe rather than disconnect.
But he offered a warning to others: "If you're stealing our product, and cheating our company and the county, when we catch you, we'll unfortunately be forced to prosecute."
Five percent of Storer/Howard's gross revenue is paid to the county under a franchise agreement.
About 1,100 Howard County residents have turned themselves in during the amnesty, said David H. Nevins, a Storer/Howard spokesman. The company has about 45,000 paid subscribers in the Ellicott City, Columbia, Laurel, Savage and Elkridge areas. Mr. Nevins estimates that 1,000 to 3,000 cable thieves have yet to turn themselves in.
The company will have operators answering the phones late into Super Bowl Sunday, Mr. Nevins said.
"We believe a lot of people, for obvious reasons, will wait for the last few days to turn themselves in," he said.
A recently passed state law stiffened penalties for those caught receiving cable television service without paying for it, even if the resident was not responsible for rigging the wiring. The maxium penalty for those convicted of a first offense is a $1,000 fine and six months in jail.
"People didn't think it was a crime you could be prosecuted for," said Mr. Nevins. "It's stealing. It's no different than carrying a $400 TV out of Circuit City. The free ride is over."
Comcast Cablevision completed an amnesty in Baltimore County Dec. 31 and has begun prosecuting those charged with stealing cable service.
Storer/Howard is conducting a manual audit of its wiring in the county to determine who is receiving cable service illegally, Mr. Nevins said. The company also has electronic equipment that can detect signal leakage, which usually is a sign that the company did not hook up the residence, he said.
The company plans to turn names of those suspected of stealing cable service over to the Howard County state's attorney's office.
Installation proceeds derived from the amnesty program will be donated to local charities, the company said.
To participate in the amnesty program or for information, call 461-1156.