Cox investment prompts Rhode Island reps to push for broadband council
A recent $120 million investment announcement by Cox Communications to build fiber and upgrade its DOCSIS network across Rhode Island has stirred some drama between the company and state lawmakers who expressed concern over Cox's commitment to the region.
Specifically, three Rhode Island General Assembly representatives for the Aquidneck Island area – Deborah Ruggiero, Lauren H. Carson and Terri Cortvriend – issued a press release accusing the incumbent of "years of underinvestment" and questioning whether this latest investment will deliver on its promise.
As part of its three-year, $120 million investment, Cox said it would spend at least $20 million on Aquidneck Island and Jamestown. Speaking at a press event last week, Cox CEO Mark Greatrex said the funds would bring fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) to 35,000 homes and businesses in those areas.
But as lawmakers argued in a press release: "Residents of the islands have long had issues with slow, frequently disconnecting internet service, which is available only through Cox."
The state reps cite a recent report from the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce showing that 42% of Rhode Islanders – or roughly 134,000 households and businesses – don't have access to broadband of 100/20 Mbit/s. The report further found that almost all of Aquidneck Island qualifies as underserved.
To that end, lawmakers said the amount Cox is investing "sounds like an effort to catch up on years of neglect rather than to propel broadband service into the future in the island communities."
Representative Ruggiero, who leads the General Assembly's House Innovation, Internet and Technology Committee, called it "commendable that the incumbent cable company is finally investing to upgrade their infrastructure." But she also suggested it is too little, too late.
"When you break down the $20 million among four communities over three years, it is $1.6 million. How is that not routine maintenance that should have been happening over the past eight to 10 years? If they are really deploying 'last mile' fiber to 35,000 households as they mentioned, the cost would be close to $50 million. The numbers don't work, and where exactly are those households?" said Rep. Ruggiero.
Rep. Carson called Cox's efforts a "PR smokescreen" and said "these new plans for improving service fall woefully short of actually relieving costs and providing any competition on the island."
In an email to Broadband World News, a Cox representative defended the company's work in the state and expressed appreciation for Rhode Island's governor and other elected officials who were present at an event announcing the investment.
"Over the last five years, Cox has invested more than $160 million in its Rhode Island network, with continuous infrastructure upgrades that help to provide the Ocean State with some of the fastest internet speeds in the country," said the spokesperson.
Noting that the company believes "in the power of public and private partnerships," the Cox rep added that this investment will allow Rhode Island to use its federal and state dollars "to address broadband adoption and digital equity."
Calls to establish 'broadband council'
In addition to taking issue with Cox's investment, the lawmakers also used their press release to call for more broadband funding to go to municipalities, and to pass a state law to establish a Broadband Advisory Council. Such a bill is currently under consideration in the Rhode Island House and is sponsored by the three legislators who issued the press release.
The bill outlines the need for such a council in Rhode Island. For starters, it notes that Rhode Island is one of only two states without a broadband administrator, coordinator or entity – and that this has caused the state to lose out on federal funding. The lawmakers cite incoming funding from the Biden administration's infrastructure law as a reason to put such a council in place now.
"Now more than ever, the Rhode Island Broadband Advisory Council is needed for the state to coalesce around technology trends and create roadmaps for municipalities to access federal dollars and for how a private cable company can partner with a public entity for innovative fiber broadband over the next four to five years," said Rep. Ruggiero. "The public demands transparency as the state receives hundreds of millions of federal dollars to deploy fiber broadband."
At least one Rhode Island citizen has expressed agreement with the need for such an entity. Back in February 2021, John McDaid of Portsmouth wrote a letter to the editor of the Newport Daily News in support of a prior version of the bill to create a state broadband council.
The catalyst for this letter of support? A recent multi-week Cox network slowdown that the writer said highlighted the need for accountability after residents struggled to have their issues addressed.
"It was only after multiple residents had filed complaints with the RI Public Utilities Commission, the RI Attorney General, and the FCC, that Cox suddenly discovered a way to fix their system," wrote McDaid.
"A bill just introduced in the RI House ... would create a broadband council tasked with developing a strategic plan for providing reliable, 21st century internet access," he wrote. "This incident with Cox provides ample evidence for the measure's necessity."
— Nicole Ferraro, site editor, Broadband World News; senior editor, global broadband coverage, Light Reading. Host of "The Divide" on the Light Reading Podcast.
Here's where you can find episode links for 'The Divide,' Light Reading's podcast series featuring conversations with broadband providers and policymakers working to close the digital divide.
As we have for the past two years, Light Reading will present our Cable Next-Gen Europe conference as a free digital symposium on June 21.
Charter has sparked RDOF work in all 24 states where it won bids. The cable op booked about $19 million in RDOF revenues in Q1, and expects to have about $9 million per month come in over the next ten years.
As we have for the past two years, Light Reading will stage the Cable Next-Gen Technologies & Strategies conference as a free digital event over two half-days in mid-March.
Launch of 2-Gig and 5-Gig FTTP tiers in 70-plus markets puts more pressure on cable ops to enhance their existing DOCSIS 3.1 network or accelerate their upgrade activity centered on the new DOCSIS 4.0 specs.
Wednesday, September 14, 2022
1:00 p.m. New York / 6:00 p.m. London
When your broadband business adds new services and connected devices, do they also add complexity, slowing customer support teams as they navigate multiple data sources to uncover connectivity issues? We’ve worked with hundreds of support teams to help them implement a subscriber experience management platform that gives greater visibility into subscriber issues. They can proactively troubleshoot amid complexity—improving the subscriber experience and raising customer satisfaction ratings like Net Promoter Scores.
Join this webinar with experts from Calix and global research leader Omdia who will share exclusive research about how you can:
Broadband World News
About Us Advertise With Us Contact Us Help Register Twitter Facebook RSS
Copyright © 2023 Light Reading, part of Informa Tech,
in partnership with