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AT&T is blaming copper thieves for cutting off phone and Internet service to Atlanta neighborhoods. The company says the thieves are stealing the cable faster than crews can repair the damage.

People in the Linkwood Road neighborhood in northwest Atlanta have been without cable and Internet since Friday. AT&T reported that copper thieves cut the lines on Linkwood Road twice in one week. Many of the people left without phone and Internet service are senior citizens.

According to television reports, residents said that they have seen men late at night who they thought were AT&T crews working on the lines, only to find out later they were thieves.

Copper theft has become a serious issue in Atlanta and around the country. In August theieves stole copper wiring from Georgia 400 traffic cameras, knocking them out for days. Reports from the Department of Energy estimate that copper theft is responsible for $1 billion worth of damage every year.

In 2009 Georgia passed legislation intended to regulate the secondary market that buys scrap copper, requiring recycling businesses to keep records of who they buy metal from and allowing law enforcement to inspect the records. That law marked the second time since 2007 the General Assembly passed legislation to specifically addresses copper theft.

Two issues are driving the theft are the poor economy and rising price of copper. In 2011, the price of the material jumped from around $3.50 a pound lb. to around $4.50/lb. before shooting dropping to about $3.75 a pound. In 2009 the it was worth less than $2.00 a pound.

A 2007 Department of Energy report says that copper is more in demand than at any other point in history.

AT&T officials said they are frustrated and taking action because the problem is widespread and growing quickly. They said the moment they get one area back online, thieves strike somewhere else.

AT&T is offering a $3,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the people who are cutting the lines for copper.

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