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Broadband copper cable theft and BT’s RABIT technology

What’s new with Broadband Cable Theft?  

Metal theft is a serious issue in the UK. In 2008 it was identified as one of the fastest growing crimes in the UK and by 2011, there were over 1,000 reports of offences taking place every week. The most recent figures (for 2012) estimate that the illegal metal market costs the UK economy £220 million a year. 

With demand for raw materials high thanks to emerging economies, lifting metal from railway stations and BT street cabinets is a tempting proposition.

However a knock on effect of this is that it causes huge disruption to the UK’s infrastructure including broadband services.

What’s worse is that cable theft doesn’t just have a knock on effect to those in the immediate vicinity. Depending on what part of the network is stolen, customers hundreds of miles away from the crime scene can be affected.

Thankfully combined efforts from BT and the British Transport Police is seeing cable theft rates in this area falling. Development of the RABIT (Rapid Assessment BT Incident Tracker) technology has seen more arrests take place in the last 11 months from March 2012 than all of 2010 combined.

In December 2012, the Home Office introduced new rules to give police powers of entry into scrap metal yards and the removable of ‘no questions asked’ cash payments for scrap.

Previous news stories about Broadband Cable Theft

Scrap Metal Dealers Bill likely to be passed into law

Broadband Cable Theft: Scrap Metal Dealers Bill likely to be passed into lawThe Scrap Metal Dealers Bill, designed to cut down on metal theft, will now likely become law in England and Wales.

The Bill will give councils greater powers in determining who can and can’t work as a scrap metal deal, by way of requiring all dealers apply for a licence. Councils can accept or reject applications based on any previous convictions for related crimes, revoked licences at will and force dealers to keep any metal received in its original form for at least 72 hours.

This last part should be especially helpful in cutting down on the theft of copper cable used for broadband and easily identify suspects.

Yesterday the House of Lords passed the Bill at the third reading, the final chance for the Bill to be changed or rejected and no amendments were made. The Bill should now be all clear to receive Royal Assent and passed into law, but there’s been no date set for this yet.

February 13, 2013

Previous news stories about Broadband Cable Theft

Copper criminals who caused hundreds to lose broadband behind bars 

Two copper cable thieves whose actions had deprived hundreds of local residents and businesses of their broadband services have been sentenced to two years in prison, the Metropolitan Police has revealed.

The thieves, Daryl Carslake, 30 and Gavin Marriott, 28 had stolen hundreds of metres of copper from two separate locations in Teddington and Sussex in last May.

Broadband Cable Theft: Copper criminals who caused hundreds to lose broadband behind bars

When the pair were cutting a large length of cable from a site in Fernheath, Sussex – which saw over 600 locations experiencing a broadband blackout – BT engineers responding to the downtime witnessed the men and called in the police who then arrested them.

BT’s RABIT (Rapid Assessment BT Incident Tracker) early warning system allows engineers to respond quickly to broadband outages in the hopes that services can be restored and, in the event of theft, the guilty parties identified.

The London Crime Squad and BT hope that sentencing – which was reduced to 16 months on account of early guilty pleas – will send out a strong message to would-be cable thieves.

Simon Davies, BT general manager for cable theft said: “This case highlights the often highly organised nature of metal theft by persons who are only concerned with maximising their proceeds from this crime and care nothing for the disruption they cause for communities… The conviction and subsequent sentences are therefore very fitting.”

February 12, 2013

Police recover £10,000 of stolen BT copper 

New rules set up by the Home Office last week have already seen the police haul in stolen cable worth £10,000 to BT.

While the actual scrap value of the stolen BT cable was said to be £450, it would have cost BT ten grand to reinstate the cable on its network.

The new measures, which give police across the UK new powers of entry when visiting scrap yards, was put to good use in the North West as part of ‘Operation Coast-to-Coast’ last week, during which over 150 scrap dealers were investigated.Cable Theft: Police recover £10,000 of stolen BT copper

The rules also see an end to ‘no questions asked’ cash payments for metal and fines of up to £5,000 for traders not playing by the new rules.

This is great news for broadband ISPs and their subscribers who are routinely plagued by copper cable thieves making their lives a misery.

Additionally £5 million of Government funding has been set aside to create a dedicated metal theft unit.

Inspector Dave Rams, North West Regional Co-ordinator said part of the operation was to “build a clear intelligence picture of how stolen metal is moved on,” and how it can be clamped down on in future.

December 11, 2012

BT, KC and Humberside cops collab to catch copper crooks

Cable theft – BT hates it, KC hates it, we hate it and, as you keep telling us in the comments, you really hate it.

Hull readers will be pleased to learn that BT and KC are working together with the Humberside Police in order to help cut down on cable theft. As part of the solution, the ISPs and the force will work with local scrap dealers and members of the public.

Simon Davies, BT’s security general manager for metal theft told us “we welcome initiatives such as this, which are an important part of the campaign to beat cable thieves. The actions of cable thieves are completely indiscriminate and can often adversely affect the most vulnerable people in communities and disrupt the lives of others in many ways. Members of the public can play a vital role in the battle against metal thieves by being vigilant and reporting anything suspicious.”BT anti copper cable theft: Up to 4 hours to tell ISPs of incidents

BT is also exploring the possibility of using its RABIT (Rapid Assessment BT Incident Tracker) technology in the Humberside area. RABIT is already used by BT across most of the UK but hasn’t been used in Kingston where KC (aka KCOM) is the incumbent telco.

Sgt Julian Hart, from Humberside Police, said: “Metal theft isn’t a victimless crime. It causes damage to properties and disruption to vital services.”

As well as obviously being annoying for subscribers who can’t stream the latest episode of Homeland thanks to some oik nicking copper, cable thefts have wider knock-on effects.

Incidents in Hull have led to trains being delayed and a Hull KR Super League match at Craven Park was put at risk thanks to stolen floodlight cable. This year we reported that cable theft in the north of England ended up causing problems as far afield as the Shetland Islands as well as inconveniencing local residents.

October 11, 2012

BT’s RABIT can be late by up to four hours

BT Openreach’s anti-copper cable theft tech can take up to four hours to tell other ISPs of major service outages.

BT released information about its ongoing trials of its RABIT (Rapid Assessment BT Incident Tracker) technology which is being loaned to other ISPs including TalkTalk and Plusnet.

In a statement, BT revealed that “we can effectively identify major cable breakdowns but that the notification is taking up to four hours due to the level of work associated with investigating the root cause.”

This often results in customers reporting faults before the technology can been able to inform ISPs. BT now wants to get this wait time down to 15 minutes, which will hopefully increase arrest rates.

Since the introduction of RABIT in 2011 it’s seen a spike in arrests of people stealing copper, something which BT obvously wants to improve. Though TalkTalk and Plusnet customers will feel the effect if someone nicks a load of cable, it’ll be BT Openreach which has to dig deep to replace it.

BT mentions that ISPs “should be aware that because of the immediate dispatch of the email alert, this may mean there are alerts where there is no actual incident.” A disruption in service might not mean that someone’s stealing cable, there might be other reasons for a fault, weather, workmen breaking cables accidentally, or a general fault in wiring.

Part of the trial as well as testing the effectiveness of this early warning system is to help notify ISPs of breaks in service and how to best respond.

The trial which was originally due to end in October has now been extended to the 30th of November to test this new 15 minute wait time.

September 7, 2012 

TalkTalk and Plusnet to trial BT’s RABIT

TalkTalk and Plusnet have expressed an interest in signing up for BT Openreach’s trial of RABIT, our sources can reveal.

The trial of the early warning system will be taking place over a three month period and will focus on quick error reporting. The main idea behind the RABIT (Rapid Assessment BT Incident Tracker) system is to help curb cable theft by informing police of the crime as it’s happening. 

The technology can also be used to identify which customers have been affected, so that BT Openreach can better make repairs and restore service quickly.

The RABIT trial will see ISPs able to access a diagnostic tool which will inform them of postcodes affected by cable theft, so that they are able to better manage the situation and inform customers.

The trial will begin this Thursday the 12th of July and will run until the 5th of October. We’re waiting to get some official statements from TalkTalk and Plusnet on this and will update once we hear more.

July 10, 2012


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