Cox Seeking Rate Dereg in Fairfax

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Cox Communications Inc. is asking federal regulators to bar Fairfax County, Va., from setting its rates for its basic-programming package, remote controls and set-top boxes due to strong competition from satellite providers and the recent entry of Verizon Communications Inc.

Fairfax is a large, affluent suburb of Washington, D.C., where Cox serves about 242,000 subscribers, and it is likely to be hotly contested territory when Verizon completes its network deployment.

Cox filed for relief Tuesday at the Federal Communications Commission, which is not legally required to act within a specified period of time.

"Northern Virginia is one the most, if not the most, competitive markets in the country," Cox spokesman Alex Horwitz said Wednesday. "We have Verizon. We've got strong satellite."

The basic tier -- which includes local TV stations and public-access channels -- is a required purchase by all cable subscribers.

Local governments are permitted to cap basic rates unless the cable operator can demonstrate that it faces effective competition. Under a test in federal law, effective competition is present if competitors combined serve more than 15% of households in the market.

In its FCC filing, Cox said the two major direct-broadcast satellite companies, DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp., have subscriber totals that pushed them passed the 15% threshold in unincorporated Fairfax, Vienna, Falls Church and Herndon.

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