Copper thieves continue to take their toll

Scary telco talesWith the price of copper wire rising in recent years, there's been no shortage of cunning criminals looking for a quick buck by stealing copper from utility poles and remote terminal (RT) sites.

Copper theft, of course, is a nightmare for both criminals and the service providers.

The nightmare for service providers, which maintain thousands of miles of copper-based cabling, typically don't find out theft occurred until customers call to say their service is out. Criminals, however, not only face jail time when caught, but sometimes electrocution if they mistakenly cut into a live electrical wire.

Notable examples of copper theft over the past 10 months have been seen at both AT&T (NYSE: T) and Canada's Telus (Toronto: T.TO). In January, thieves made off with 200 feet of copper cabling from AT&T, leaving 20 customers in Dallas, TX without service. Meanwhile, Telus reported that thieves stole two 60 meter copper cables from Langley Bypass, British Columbia four fiber cables were cut and one copper cable was stolen in while in Richmond, BC.    

Service providers have been taking action though by teaming local law enforcement to create copper theft task forces and copper tip hotlines to report theft from utility poles and work sites.

But one service provider that's really being innovative about copper theft is UK's BT (NYSE: BT). Fed up with copper theft, the incumbent service provider has put "smartwater" bombs in its copper facilities that will spray liquid on the culprit. These bombs leave a DNA fingerprint that not only links the thief to the crime scene, but can be detected by police carrying ultraviolet light detectors.

While BT and others are certainly stepping their copper theft prevention efforts, the reality is that if the price of copper remains high, the nightmare will likely continue for service providers.

Copper thieves continue to take their toll