CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Verizon is warning its customers about an increasing number of criminal acts that have caused major telephone service outages, creating risks to public safety for thousands of customers across the state.
Over the past 12 months, thieves have been responsible for nearly 45 incidents involving theft of copper telephone cables and electronic equipment, as well as vandalism to Verizon's telecommunications network. More than 17,000 customers have unnecessarily experienced telephone service delays - up to five days in some cases - and endured serious risks to their personal safety.
"These thefts are just incomprehensible in that they put people's lives in danger and cost thousands of dollars to repair," said H. Stan Cavendish, president of Verizon West Virginia. "It's fortunate that there's been no loss of life due to these senseless crimes."
A majority of the acts have occurred in southern West Virginia, primarily in Boone, Logan and Kanawha counties. But incidents have occurred in other parts of the state as well, such as Wood and Brooke counties. Some incidents date back to 2005 and earlier.
The most recent incident occurred in the Weirton area, where a 20-foot section of Verizon cable that housed 600 telephone lines was stolen on Jan. 27, affecting not only residential customers, but police and fire departments in Colliers as well.
"Cable thefts continue to be a major public safety issue to the citizens in West Virginia," said Jimmy Gianato, director, West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. "When phone lines are cut, citizens lose their ability to call 911 and other emergency services. This loss of emergency communications can also result in deaths due to delayed response. Individuals seeing anyone attempting to steal lines or break into phone or power facilities should immediately call 911."
Verizon employees usually travel in company vehicles when working on telephone lines, and in all cases employees carry Verizon photo IDs, which they will show on request. Other utility company employees also carry identification.
Last year alone, more than 26,000 feet, or nearly five miles, of copper cable was stolen, causing more than $240,000 in damages to Verizon's telecommunications network. The criminal acts have forced Verizon technicians to focus on repairing damaged facilities, rather than on other construction projects and service improvements across the state. A recent service upgrade in the Barboursville area was delayed when newly installed copper cables were stolen the night before they were scheduled to be put into service.
"We are working closely with other utility companies and law enforcement officials to find and fully prosecute those responsible," said Cavendish.
State lawmakers recently introduced House Bill 2748 to address the growing problem of cable thefts. The proposed legislation would require recyclers and salvage yards that buy scrap metal to collect additional information from sellers, such as a photocopy of sellers' driver's licenses, and would increase the penalties for those who fail to comply with the law. The bill also would allow police to confiscate metal from scrap buyers if they believe the materials had been stolen.
Verizon urges anyone with information about specific incidents to contact Verizon's Security Control Center at 1-800-997-3287 and select option three. Those who witness any acts in progress should immediately call the West Virginia State Police at 304-792-7200.
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ), headquartered in New York, is a leader in delivering broadband and other wireline and wireless communication innovations to mass market, business, government and wholesale customers. Verizon Wireless operates America's most reliable wireless network, serving more than 59 million customers nationwide. Verizon's Wireline operations include Verizon Business, which operates one of the most expansive wholly owned global IP networks, and Verizon Telecom, which is deploying the nation's most advanced fiber-optic network to deliver the benefits of converged communications, information and entertainment services to customers. A Dow 30 company, Verizon has a diverse workforce of approximately 242,000 and last year generated consolidated operating revenues of more than $88 billion. For more information, visit www.verizon.com.