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August 17, 2011

Wireless Companies Seeing Uptick in Copper Theft From Cell Towers

By Tracey E. Schelmetic, TMCnet Contributor

As the economy continues to stagnate and even backslide, and as unemployment remains high, some have turned to an old criminal profession: the “liberation” and resale of valuable metals, regardless of where they might be located.

Some of them, apparently, are located on cell phone towers.

Police in Lakeville, Massachusetts, about 40 miles south of Boston, arrested a man who had climbed up a Verizon (News - Alert)-owned cell tower in order to steal the copper plates used to ground the towers in event of lightning strikes, reported the local news site EnterpriseNews.com.

“The officers reported that he was over 100 feet above ground,” said Lakeville Police Chief Frank Alvilhiera. “This is the first time we have had a theft from a cell tower that I can recall. This has been the trend with copper prices high. Thefts are on the rise everywhere.”

The thief, 26-year-old Adam L. Haller of New Bedford, was charged with trespassing, malicious destruction of property and attempting to commit a crime. A second thief jumped a fence and ran away before police could apprehend him.

Copper prices are high right now (along with many other precious metals), so the theft of copper wherever it may occur is hardly an unknown crime. But it may be on the rise.

  • Technicians servicing a cell tower in Richland, Pennsylvania discovered two copper grounding plates missing last week.
  • AT&T (News - Alert) has reported that it has lost copper – approximately 150 feet of wire – from five cell towers in Iowa since May.
  • Seven cell towers – four of them belonging to AT&T – were targeted for copper theft earlier this summer in Spartanburg County, South Carolina. Police in that state believe the uptick in copper theft is due to a law that will go into effect soon requiring anyone selling copper to obtain a permit from the county sheriff.
  • Three cell towers were targeted in Salem and Londonderry, New Hampshire in June. Two months prior to that, two men were reportedly found stealing copper wire from National Grid in Salem, New Hampshire and arrested.

As copper theft becomes more prevalent, CTIA (News - Alert)-The Wireless Association (http://www.ctia.org/), an industry trade group for wireless providers, is moving for tougher penalties for stealing copper from cell phone towers.

“Copper theft is against the law, which is why CTIA and our member companies support tougher penalties,” said Amy Storey, a CTIA-The Wireless Association spokeswoman. “We also believe there should be a requirement for more disclosures, (such as) identifying where you got the wire before you get paid,” she said.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2011, taking place Sept. 13-15, 2011, in Austin, Texas. ITEXPO (News - Alert) offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations. It's also where service providers learn how to profitably roll out the services their subscribers are clamoring for – and where resellers can learn about new growth opportunities. To register, click here.


Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell
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