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Cable Cut Knocks Out East L.A. Viewers

Executives of independent cable operator Buena-vision Cable TV posted a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of a saboteur who severed cable plant in East Los Angeles June 17.

That act prevented thousands of residents in the area where Oscar De La Hoya grew up from watching his welterweight-championship fight against Shane Mosley on pay-per-view.

Movie producer Moctesuma Esparza, who owns the system that serves East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights, said at a press conference last Monday that the system received a warning call moments before someone accessed an underground vault to cut 120 fiber optic strands Saturday evening.

The caller said "something bad" would happen but gave no details. The intruder idled all 14,000 of Buenavision's subscribers.

Buenavision executives said they knew of no employees who might want to damage the company. They noted that Buena-vision gave substantial bonuses last Christmas to about 50 employees, many of whom have been with the operator more than five years.

But the site selection and the cut itself apparently showed knowledge of the cable system.

Cable sabotage has taken place in the past in Los Angeles, especially during high-profile events.

Cables have been cut during the Oscar broadcast and sports playoffs. But each of those incidents were directed toward then-Century Communications Corp. systems, and most were attributed (but not substantiated) to union labor unrest.

Buenavision is not a union shop. Esparza said any past outages in his system were due to residents "popping a .22 in the air and hitting an amplifier," or to auto accidents taking out poles.

The system completed a fiber optic rebuild in 1999. It is offering cable-modem service, but will not launch digital video until later this year.

Customers were off line for about 12 hours after the outage began at around 5 p.m.

Executives held a press conference on the sabotage because the outage was reported on local broadcast during the weekend, but those reports did not present the operator's side, Esparza said. Since the company explained the source of the outage, "I think sympathy is with us now," he added.

The system has refunded the purchase price of the fight, $52, to the approximately 1,000 subscribers who bought it. Those subscribers will also get $15 credits toward their cable bills for the month.

Other subscribers will be compensated in the form of free access to Starz! through the end of the month. And the operator planned to open its Home Box Office feed so customers could watch the De La Hoya-Mosley bout replay June 24.

In all, the refunds and costs to repair the damage cost the operator an estimated $100,000. The incident is under investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department.