The price of copper has reached pre-recession levels, causing a resurgence of the theft of phone lines which house the metal.
However, the thieves appear to be targeting fibre optic cables, and the fibre contains no copper, the metal of choice for thieves because of skyrocketing prices.
But while cutting or damaging the fibres may yield little of value to thieves, thousands of customers are being inconvenienced.
Telus spokesman Shawn Hall there were 200 cases in the company’s territory last year, most of them in the Lower Mainland. More than 10 per cent occurred in Langley.
According to police, Langley accounts for 40 per cent of metal thefts that occur in the Lower Mainland.
“Surrey is another hot spot,” Hall said.
Telus is concerned that when phone lines are down, customers are put at risk in emergencies.
That was Darlene Poitras’ concern when thieves who cut Telus cables on Aug. 3 left her and other residents in the Old Yale Road/232 Street rural neighbourhood without land line service for two days.
Hall said that the number of incidents rose last year to pre-recession levels.
Phone lines can be cut accidentally by construction workers or as the result of traffic mishaps, but “well over half of our outages” are caused by the theft of equipment, Hall said.
While it costs Telus around $50,000 per incident in repairs, “of greater concern to us is the risk to customers’ lives,” Hall said.
Fibre optics cables contain mainly glass and plastic, and are therefore of no monetary value to thieves, he said.
The public can help curb the thefts.
“If you see anything suspicious up a pole, call 911,” Hall said, adding that sometimes the thieves dress in white and drive white vans that resemble those used by Telus.
Poitras said she would like the Township to adopt a strict bylaw that would make it difficult for people to dispose of stolen metal.
The Township has sent a draft bylaw to Victoria with the hope that the government will use it as the basis of legislation to regulate the scrap metal dealers uniformly across the province. As well, Langley’s position will be presented to next month’s Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.
Bill Storie, head of Township bylaw enforcement, said that the bylaw contains a tougher approach, a highlight being an electronic recording and reporting information system, similar to the Xtract system used in the City of Vancouver.
He said people are frustrated because when metal is stolen, someone accepts it and someone makes money from the illegal transaction.
Another key element is a seven-day holding period for non-commercial transactions. This means that metal brought to a scrap metal dealer or pawn shop must be held for seven days for anyone not holding a valid business licence.
“Our ultimate goal is that the province will pass a uniform bylaw,” Storie said.