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After Big Bust, Comcast Extends Amnesty

Comcast Corp. is again offering the olive branch to people in Maryland and Delaware who are illegally pulling down cable video signals.

The program — which started last Tuesday and will extend through Sept. 16 — comes on the heels of a well-publicized investigation that led to the arrest of several family members living in Pikesville, Md.

Given the publicity, the country's biggest MSO decided to offer the amnesty program to give others the chance to turn themselves in without fear of prosecution before the next round of cases begins.

Viewers who are now pirating signals can contact Comcast, sign up for pay service and turn in their illegal cable receivers. In exchange, they will be excused from the prosecution.

After the amnesty period, Comcast will conduct a house-by-house audit of all of its cable systems in the region, and any residents found tapping cable signals without paying will be turned over to authorities.

The communities involved in the program include the cities of Baltimore and Annapolis; Baltimore metro's Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Calvert, Cecil, Charles, Harford and Howard counties; and outlying Caroline, Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties.

In Delaware, the program is under way in Kent, New Castle and Sussex counties.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association estimated that the cable industry loses almost $6.6 billion yearly from cable-signal theft, which does not include unauthorized access to pay-per-view programming.

Elsewhere, Comcast said last week its retail HD play is moving outside the home base in Philadelphia, extending an agreement with electronics retailer Tweeter Home Entertainment Group Inc. to promote the service at retail outlets in 10 states.

Until now, the two had a marketing agreement to offer Comcast HDTV services in 19 Philadelphia-area stores. In all, Comcast has an HDTV presence in 87 Tweeter, Sound Advice and HiFi Buys stores in Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

The marketing campaign will pair up digital HDTV-ready sets with Comcast's high-definition service, offering free basic delivery of the HDTV sets or $50 off Tweeter's deluxe delivery option.

The offer is valid for new subscribers opting for HD service or existing subscribers who upgrade from analog or digital cable.

Comcast has been offering its Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware subscribers USA Network's HD feed of U.S. Open tennis coverage. And the MSO also said last week that it will be offering ABC's Monday Night Football
games in high definition, and will run ESPN's Sunday Night Football
telecasts in HD as part of its recent ESPN HD carriage deal.

Comcast now claims to offer HDTV service to 11.5 million customers in 16 states.