Texas Ops Get Piracy Law Changed

Texas operators have a new theft-of-service law that makes
it easier to prosecute individual cable pirates, as well as distributors of illegal

Before adjourning, lawmakers sent a bill to Gov. George
Bush Jr. which downgrades the severity of cable theft from a Class B to a Class C

Meanwhile, in another win for cable, an attempt by the
state's Internet Service Providers to attach an amendment to telephone legislation that
would have forced operators to unbundle their broadband networks died in the Senate.

The anti-theft bill passed after language was struck that
would have required distributors to provide the state with the names of individuals who
purchased their illegal devices.

"We really didn't expect them to do it," said
Texas Cable Telecommunications Association president Bill Arnold. "But we figured
when they got caught, it would provide another way to prosecute them. But some people
thought it smacked of privacy issues and Big Brother, so we took it out."

Nevertheless, by making cable piracy a Class C misdemeanor,
or the equivalent of theft of property, criminal mischief or driving on a suspended
license, the act still makes it easier to drag cable pirates into court.

Under the previous statute, a Class B offense was handled
by the Texas Districts Courts, which typically placed high-profile crimes at the top of
its list, while relegating cable piracy to the back burner, Arnold said.

However, a Class C offense is under the jurisdiction of a
Justice of the Peace or city court -- venues which routinely handle such matters.

Also reduced were the penalties for cable piracy.

Under Texas law, a Class B offense carries a penalty of 180
days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000, while a Class C misdemeanor calls for a fine not
to exceed $500.

The new law also makes accepting advertising for illegal
set-top devices a Class A misdemeanor, which means a fine of $4,000 and up to a year in

On open access, meanwhile, Arnold predicted the issue will
be the subject of various studies between now and the time Texas lawmakers reconvene in
January 2001.

The proposal, which would have opened high-speed cable
networks to unaffiliated ISPs, was supported by local members of OpenNet, a Washington
D.C.-based coalition headed by America Online.

"I think it's safe to say that the AOL thing is not
going to go away," Arnold said. "There are too many telephone interests who
would love to hobble their competitors."