The UK government is set to crack down on rogue scrap metal dealers in a drive to 'stamp out' metal theft — an issue that has been causing broadband outages and other headaches for telecoms giant BT.
New measures, due to come into force on 3 December, will ban all dealers from paying cash for scrap metal and increase the penalties for crimes under existing legislation. They will also give the police more authority to enter scrapyards and fine rogue traders, the Home Office said on Thursday.
Separately, a 'Scrap Metal Dealers Bill' is set to get another reading in Parliament on Friday. If passed, it will require scrap metal dealers to be licensed.
BT is a vocal supporter of this bill, largely because it loses vast amounts of copper cabling every year to thieves. Its service status page regularly lists broadband and phone line outages due to damage from cable theft, and in February, the company said there has been a "significant" increase in attacks on its networks in recent years as the price of metals has risen.
Phone line theft "can prevent villages from making vital calls to emergency services and can leave severely ill and infirm people disconnected and isolated", BT was quoted as saying in The Telegraph on Wednesday.
The issue is calculated to cost the UK at least £220m each year, though police estimates put the figure at £777m. It is so serious that the Metropolitan Police launched a unit at the end of last year — with the involvement of BT experts — that is dedicated to tackling copper cable theft.
To tackle the problem, BT has tried out 'RABIT' technology, which detects when a cable has been cut and immediately alerts police, and has introduced security measures such as SmartWater, which identifies cables through indelible marking.
"Openreach expects to spend tens of thousands of hours [in 2012] repairing theft and damage to the network, at a cost of millions of pounds, including the cost of repair (time and materials) and the cost of the mitigation actions being taken by BT to combat the problem," BT said in February.