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LIME looks to Gov't as cable theft soars to $80M

BY KARENA BENNETT Business reporter bennettk@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, July 10, 2015

Telecommunications giant LIME is seeking more government intervention in the vandalism of its cable infrastructure as damage soars to $80 million since the start of the year.

Leading the charge in customer support for the combined LIME and Columbus Communications operations, Ronnie Thompson told the Jamaica Observer in a round-table interview on Wednesday that since the resurgence of the scrap metal industry, the company has been experiencing frequent vandalism of its copper cables.

What's more, Thompson stated that if the Government does not step in immediately, the company could see triple-digit figures for theft this year after surpassing last year's $80-million record in just six months. The perpetrators have also been depriving the company of its batteries and fuel.

"When we lose $1 million, the loss multiplies because the nation is affected by the means to communicate. The businesses, schools, hospitals and fire stations are affected, and that is a threat to people's lives," he said.

Thompson stated that the three main parishes involved in the criminal activity are St Catherine, St Mary and Manchester. He noted that over the last three months St Mary's cable infrastructure was cut and stolen four times, costing the company roughly $1 million.

Vice President of Legal and Regulatory Consumer, Rochelle Cameron is now calling on the Government to implement stricter penalties to deter the theft of the company's infrastructure.

She told the Caribbean Business Report that although stringent scrap metal regulations are in place, the theft of cable is currently being treated as simple larceny, which allows sentencing of up to four months or a fine of $100,000.

"The matter is believed to be of such a national threat that there should be some mandatory sentencing, and for it to be treated as a strict liability matter if you have been found with the cables," Cameron stated.

"We are proposing that it should not be anything less than five years because these perpetrators are a potential threat to people's lives when hospitals, fire stations and police stations are out of service, and they are also affecting national development of schools and businesses. The ripple effect is so great that the penalties need to reflect this."

Security Operations manager at LIME Christopher Bryan, says the perpetrators operate by cutting the cable wires and returning for it in the wee hours of the morning. He added that the company's branding is then burnt off the wires by the hoodlums and sold to the scrap metal companies.

Bryan stated that LIME has been in discussions with various Government ministries and agencies, and has been visiting scrap metal sites to conduct their own investigations. Additionally, there has been an increase in security presence at the high- risk areas.

"We have been working with the police and we are also appealing to community members to get involved because this is disrupting your lives as well. It's a personal breach of your service and every time the cable is cut, it takes up to two weeks to get persons connected again," Bryan stated.

Earlier this year, the company issued a public release stating that the frequent vandalism could undo important efforts to deepen rural Internet penetration. The company has also indicated that the act continues to disturb the planning of proper network operations.

In January, Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Phillip Paulwell reportedly stated during a radio interview that he would be willing to develop legislation to provide stiffer penalties for the theft and vandalism of telephone cables. LIME has indicated its willingness to assist at any stage of the legislative process in order expedite passage.