R.I. Officials Give Cox Green Light to Expand

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Cox Communications Inc. and Rhode Island regulators have struck a deal that allows the company to expand into the one part of the state it doesn't already serve.

The MSO — which controls 96 percent of the state's cable market — wants to expand its network by overbuilding "Area 5," or the towns of Bristol, Barrington and Warren.

The agreement calls for Cox to deliver the same number of public, educational and governmental (PEG) access channels as the incumbent, Full Channel TV. The deal is a setback for Full Channel, a mom-and-pop operator that's fought the proposed overbuild.

Cox reached the arrangement with the advocacy bureau of the state Division of Public Utilities and Carriers and the Rhode Island Attorney General's Office.

It's not just Full Channel that's giving Cox a hard time, though. A local organization — the Area 5 Citizens Advisory Committee — has opposed Cox's request for a waiver of regulations that would require it to build an industrial/institutional network and provide up to 33 public-access channels across the state.

"We get the impression they're getting out of everything that they can," committee chairman Stephen Roy said.

Cox officials said the citizens group was "parroting" Full Channel's arguments against the overbuild.

"There's nothing new there," said Cox New England region vice president of government and public affairs John Wolf. "It would be news if they didn't oppose" the overbuild. "But we've reached this stipulation, where we offer to go beyond what the state requires," he added. "We expect to be able to go ahead by late May."

From the beginning, Cox has said Full Channel president John Donofrio has been using the regulatory process to stifle competition. Cox also claimed Donofrio acted only after failing to persuade the MSO to buy him out.

Wolf said the stipulation requires Cox to provide three PEG access channels in Area 5, the same number Full Channel furnishes.

Eric Palazzo, assistant administrator for the utility commission's cable unit, said an analysis of Full Channel's PEG access operations in Bristol County found that existing public channels were not used on a full-time basis.

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