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Telecoms firms lose millions to battery theft at cell sites

Published:Thursday | August 29, 2013 | 12:00 AM

There are fears that the mushrooming of private solar-energy solution systems may have triggered a spike in the theft of expensive batteries used at cell sites of the island's telecommunications companies.

While senior police investigators were unable to say if the increase in theft of these batteries was orchestrated, telecommunications company LIME reports that it has lost 70 since March this year, resulting in losses of more than $4 million.

LIME said the losses include damage to its facilities and installations as well as the resulting interruptions to its customers.

LIME said a solar-panel installer was convicted for theft of batteries in Westmoreland earlier this month. He pleaded guilty in court, days after he was held with 10 of the so-called power-save batteries belonging to telecommunications company.

STOLEN AND SOLD

Corporate communications manager at LIME, Elon Parkinson, said in recent years, the back-up batteries, which cost as much as US$600 each, have been targeted by thieves and then sold to unsuspecting persons setting up alternative-energy solutions.

"LIME is urging the public not to buy batteries from persons who cannot properly account for their legitimate origin," Parkinson said in a statement released yesterday.

The nation's other telecommunications provider, Digicel, declined to give details on how it has been impacted, but said it "continues to make a significant investment in security to ensure that all our cell sites and technical equipment are protected".

MONITORING THE ISSUE

However, head of facilities management and technical operations at Digicel, Donovan Betancourt, said the company will continue to monitor the issue.

"It's unfortunate that the telecom-munications industry is affected by this destructive national problem of larceny," Betancourt said in a statement to The Gleaner.

"This matter is especially disheart-ening given the contribution our sector makes to economic development," he added.

Assistant Commissioner Devon Watkis, who heads the Criminal Investigations Branch, said the police have met with the two telecommuni-cations companies and have put measures in place to curtail the incidents of theft.

Those measures, Watkis said, have already begun to bear fruit with the arrest of several persons involved in the practice.

Parkinson called arrest of the solar-panel installer a major turning point in the drive to end the escalating theft of its batteries.

"Other persons will now see that there are consequences for their illegal activity," he reasoned.