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Penalties for Using a Cable Digital Descrambler

Television Services
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Cable TV theft is a common crime that is probably taking place right in your own neighborhood, and a cable digital descrambler is more than likely the method at work. You may have heard of the process of “descrambling” cable television, but maybe you’re not sure exactly what it entails – or what the consequences might be if someone is caught doing it. It’s wise to pay attention, because cable TV theft is, in fact, more serious of a violation than most people think.

How Does a Cable Digital Descrambler Work?

A cable television signal that is put out by the cable company is typically scrambled, meaning it is mixed into an unreadable static, until or unless a person subscribes to the service. At that time, the service is routed into the home, and a switch is turned over either on the cable line or within a cable box given to the subscriber. The switch de-scrambles the cable so that the signal is received and the channels come through clearly.

An illegal cable television descrambler does the same thing, only it’s not authorized by the cable company. Descramblers are programmed to take the mixed-up cable code and clear it up so that the channels come through without the user having to pay for the service.

Some people may consider this a harmless crime – some even justify it by citing the high price of cable television. However, chances are most people aren’t considering the cost of the crime, which comes in via lost revenue, additional system maintenance, and increased service required, all of which drive up the cost of cable services and cost Americans billions of dollars per year.

Still not convinced it’s a crime? Well, regardless of what you think of the theft itself, being caught comes with some serious penalties. A wise person will consider whether or not it’s truly worth the following should they get caught using a cable television descrambler:

  • Cable theft is illegal under not just state law, but also under federal law. Federal penalties include steep fines and up to six months of prison time for cable thieves.
  • If the theft has extenuating circumstances – for example, if it’s being done for financial gain, or by a commercial business – the fines multiply, with first offenses costing as much as $50,000 and two years in jail.
  • Cable companies can get in on the act, suing perpetrators for thousands of dollars on top of fines and penalties.
  • Those who aren’t just stealing cable, but helping others steal it (selling cable television descramblers, helping set up illegal systems, etc.) may also be federally prosecuted and receive fines up to $50,000 or several years in prison.

Along with all of those possible penalties, each state has its own list of punishments for cable theft. Some are more severe than others, but all of them involve fines in the thousands of dollars and/ or years of imprisonment, and often both. Technically, then, someone using a cable digital descrambler could get hit with penalties from three directions: federal prosecution, state prosecution, and private damages by the cable company.

Put simply: it's not worth it. Using a cable digital descrambler might seem like a harmless crime, but it may also be the most expensive television you’ve ever watched in your life.

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