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By Josh Wingrove

Thanks to the digital revolution, it just isn’t as easy as it used to be to steal cable. “Theft of signals has… been drastically reduced by the introduction of digital programming,” says Nancy Cottenden, Director of Public Relations for Rogers Cable.

“It is virtually impossible for anyone to steal a digital signal.” Digital cable, which serves 40 per cent of Toronto cable buyers, is heavily encrypted against theft. But free cable is still easy to come by; many of Pitman Hall’s residents get free channels.

Rooms in the residence building are grouped into 5-student groups; if one of the five in your random group ever had cable, lucky you. This is what the industry refers to as passive theft. It’s knowingly consuming a service without reporting the error to the cable company. It is still theft, but not generally as serious as the other type: active theft. There are a few more active ways to snag free TV, although they’re meant for educational purposes only.

Let the learning begin! To serve its 2.8 million cable Internet customers, Rogers uses the same cables for both its TV and Internet services. As such, if you’re a Rogers internet subscriber, buying a simple splitter — BestBuy price: $6.99 — will get you basic cable since the signals are entwined. It’s a BOGO thing.

Tech-savvy people can look into a sling box ( to bring their cable with them. The service, according to the website, “placeshifts the television signal from your source device to your PC.” It feeds a cable signal (maybe even your parents’ signal?) and puts it out over the web.

Using an encryption, you can receive the connection exclusively on your computer, taking your cable with you whereever you go. Or you can split the cost of cable with the people around you. “Neighbours can obviously split the connection if they subscribe to one service, but somebody still has to pay,” says the Canadian Cable Telecommunications Agency’s Senior Vice President of Industry Relations, Harris Boyd. Boyd is correct. But, beyond that, it gets more complicated.

To steal cable from your neighbour, rather than sharing as he describes, it’s out to the back alley to find the cable relay box, a large, vertically rectangular box typically a foot or so off the ground. Open that – hammers and chisels work wonders – and silver spigots, which look exactly like the cable hubs on TVs, should line the top of the box. Either find an open spigot hub or put a splitter on an existing connection, but either way will involve you running a cable back to your house.

The splitter means disconnecting your victim’s cable; make sure they’re asleep, away, or wholly unaware. Some empty hubs are guarded by terminators, which require special tools to remove and are one of the more successful strategies employed by the industry to prevent signal theft. If you’re already paying but are looking for a few extra channels, some older networks use filters at the top of your cord in the relay boxes. These metal tubes, silver with a coloured stripe and about two inches long, literally strain out the channels you aren’t paying for. A pair of needlenose pliers should remove them, and any analog cable subscribers should effectively see all their channels.

“In the analog days, yes, theft of signal was a problem,” Cottenden said. However, stealing a service is just that… stealing. Under the Radiocommunications Act, signal theft carries penalties of up to $5,000 after a 2002 Supreme Court decision that set the precedent defining signal theft as a crime.

To avoid detection, in-house splitters should simply be hidden when the cable company comes to visit. Magnets should always be removed, and anyone who is removing filters from relay boxes should, with the other cables, spread the wealth — and the liability.

Or, just pay for the damned cable.

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