Houston-area internet provider says thieves targeting copper wires are causing huge problem for them - ABC13 Houston

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston police arrested a man who they said knocked out internet service to 30,000 customers while stealing copper wiring.

Bill Baker, who has also gone by the name John Williams, according to court records, is currently in jail for several charges, including damaging critical infrastructure. The 50-year-old was out on bond during the Jan. 18 incident, leading prosecutors to file a motion asking the judge to deny his bond. EDM Brass Electrode Wire

Houston-area internet provider says thieves targeting copper wires are causing huge problem for them - ABC13 Houston

Court records state that more than 400 feet of cable was found on the ground in the 500 block of Atascocita Road in Humble on Jan. 18. Surveillance video at a nearby convenience store helped link Baker to the crime, according to Houston police.

As a result of the crime, Comcast Xfinity and Brightspeed customers lost internet service. Among those who faced an outage were two 911 call centers and several hospitals and clinics, according to officials. The service was restored within a day.

"It gives me hope," Brightspeed supervisor for the area, Rui Dos Santos, said about the arrest. "It's a first step. I'm sure there's a lot of other individuals out there, but it's a step in the right direction."

Already this year, Brightspeed reports they have had their copper lines cut and fiber lines damaged 11 times.

Last year, they recorded at least 112 thefts between Humble, Kingwood, Porter, New Caney, Conroe, and northeast Houston. In each instance, their customers lost internet service.

Each time, an average of 50 to 100 customers' services were disrupted from three to seven days, according to the company.

"A lot of customers rely on working from home," Dos Santos said. "Small businesses are impacted. They can't do payroll. Their alarms are down, so that puts their businesses at risk."

Dos Santos said they have seen thieves target both their hanging cables and their buried lines for the copper. The company has copper wiring wrapped around their fiber lines in some areas, so when thieves tamper with the copper, they damage the fiber, according to the supervisor.

Brightspeed installed cameras in strategic locations and caught a crew in a bucket truck cutting their lines last year.

Dos Santos said they will often wear yellow vests and hard hats.

"They looked official, so if they were working on the side of the road, you wouldn't think twice about it," Dos Santos said. "It's very, very hard and frustrating to catch them in the act without having somebody really stop them while they're doing it."

On Tuesday, crews were out on Anderson Road in Kingwood repairing about 600 feet of copper cable that was cut over the weekend. Brightspeed learned about it on Sunday and responded to the location. Before they could return Monday morning, they got word that someone was back out in the area picking up some of the copper wiring that was left behind.

In another instance, Dos Santos said crews responded to fix the cut lines within 24 hours. They were able to repair it and restore the internet to their customers. The next day, the thieves stole the copper they had just replaced.

"We're just repeating this over and over again," Dos Santos said.

Dos Santos said they are working with their customers and law enforcement to try to catch the people behind it. They have also installed cameras in strategic places.

Brightspeed is also working to upgrade its network to all fiber lines, which are not valuable to thieves.

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