R.I. Op Socks Cox With Data Demand

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Full Channel TV, the tiny central Rhode Island operator that may be overbuilt by Cox Communications Inc., tried to bury Cox's effort in paper last week.

The 12,000-subscriber Full Channel gave regulators more than 60 questions it wants answered before Cox is allowed to enter Bristol County, or Area 5, as designated by the state.

Full Channel's queries sought information ranging from the highly specific to the downright obscure. Questions covered such topics as how much Cox spent on infrastructure to offer digital cable in Rhode Island, financial statements for each category of subscriber, the number of miles of plant left to be upgraded and the individual names of staffers in local business offices.

Cox responded by accusing Full Channel of using the regulatory process to cause "unreasonable annoyance."

The MSO has confirmed that it decided to expand into Full Channel's territory after failing to strike a deal to acquire the operator.

Full Channel president John Donofrio said he wants the state Department of Public Utility Control to make sure Cox has delivered on the services it already promised during hearings on five franchise transfers that extended its reach to over 95 percent of the state's cable market.

"The reason for our data requests is to make sure that Cox had kept all the promises it made during the transfer of those licenses," Donofrio said.

Full Channel has already accused Cox of ignoring state permitting laws when it installed electronic equipment in Smithfield, R.I. It also claims Cox closed one of its public, educational and governmental access studios without state approval.

Cox wants the DPUC to issue a protective order relieving it from having to answer "irrelevant" and "unreasonable" questions.

"The questions are absolutely irrelevant," said John Wolf, Cox vice president of government and public affairs for the New England region. "Five times in the last five years, the DPUC has conducted franchise transfer hearings and each time, they found us in compliance. Nothing has changed."

Donofrio's motives for the massive data request may also come under scrutiny. Cox last week gave regulators a copy of a letter from Donofrio to Cox CEO Jim Robbins, urging Cox to revisit a possible acquisition or face "aggressive and potentially embarrassing questions" before the DPUC.

According to sources, Donofrio balked at a Cox offer of around $2,000 per subscriber for his unrebuilt system.

Donofrio called the letter "a courtesy" to Robbins.

"Obviously, you can't force a company as large as Cox to do anything," he said.

Meanwhile, Cox is already building in Full Channel territory under a competitive local-exchange carrier authorization granted by the state.

Eric Palazzo, assistant administrator for the DPUC's cable unit, said Full Channel's data request probably won't slow the agency's review of Cox's overbuild request. A decision is still expected early next year.

Meanwhile, American Broadband Inc.-which has asked the state for authority to overbuild across Rhode Island-last week asked the DPUC for a construction permit. Public hearings on the request are expected next month.

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