A Queens cable company fired an "electronic bullet" through its system that disabled illegally installed equipment and snared 317 viewers suspected of pirating programs.

American Cablevision filed suit against the alleged thieves Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, where the scheme to discover the culprits was revealed.The company tracked down the suspected cable pirates March 13 by sending a signal through its system that only disabled illegally installed electronic chips.

Angry customers, reporting that their screens had gone black, called the company and in effect turned themselves in.

The subscribers were told to turn in their supposedly malfunctioning converters; the equipment now will be used as evidence in court.

The chips let customers receive such programming as HBO, Showtime, Sportschannel, Cinemax, Bravo, the Disney Channel, the Greek Channel and the Chinese Channel - all which carry a surcharge - without paying anything more than the basic cable rate of $18.95 a month.

The defendants will be offered a deal, said company President Barry Rosenblum: a $500 cash settlement to the company within 20 days, or possible prosecution and a fine ranging from $1,000 to $110,000.