Full Channel TV, a small cable operator in Rhode Island facing an overbuild by Cox Communications Inc. — that state's largest MSO — turned up the heat on its rival last week.
Two weeks ago, a Cox spokesman told Multichannel News
that the Atlanta-based MSO and state regulators had reached a deal that would allow the operator to overbuild Full Channel in the towns of Bristol, Barrington and Warren, R.I.
Full Channel president John Donofrio fired back last week in a statement which claimed the "stipulation" between Cox and regulators was reached during "secret" meetings and was illegal and invalid.
He further accused Cox spokesman John Wolf of resorting to "half-truths and distortions" last week, when he said the stipulation went beyond what was required under state cable law.
"Whether Mr. Wolf is acting on his own initiative, or parroting Cox officials in Atlanta, is our question," Donofrio wrote.
Nevertheless, state officials reaffirmed last week that Cox, the advocacy section of the state's Department of Utilities and Carriers, the Rhode Island Attorney General's office and the New England Cable Telecommunications Association had reached a stipulation that allows the MSO to serve the entire state.
That agreement has since been presented to a hearing examiner, who will rule on Cox's request to expand into the localities now served exclusively by Full Channel.
The examiner expects to rule by June 30.
Wolf declined to respond to Donofrio's allegations, except to say that the "stipulation speaks for itself."
"Full Channel was offered the opportunity to sign on and it declined," Wolf said.
Eric Palazzo, assistant administrator for the DPUC's cable unit, called Donofrio's allegation of secret meetings "a blatant lie."
Moreover, Full Channel was the fifth entity involved in forging the stipulation and the only one that "opted not to sign," Palazzo added.
Under the agreement, Cox will provide as many public, governmental and education (PEG) access channels as Full Channel currently offers in Bristol County. That would mean two PEG channels, as well as several "overflow" channels, Palazzo said.
Statistics furnished by Full Channel will determine how many PEG channels Cox must provide, said Palazzo.
Full Channel has joined the Area 5 Citizens Advisory Committee in demanding that Cox's entry into Bristol County be contingent on its compliance with state cable regulations.
Those regulations would require Cox to build an industrial and institutional network and provide up to 33 public-access channels statewide.