- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2000

A cooling-off period between Fox Entertainment Group Inc. and cable provider Cox Communications Inc. started Thursday, but 260,000 cable subscribers in Northern Virginia are still cut off from Channel 5.

The two television giants will negotiate a new contract during the 30- to-60-day period, which started after the Fairfax County, Va., Board of Supervisors intervened when Cox cut off Channel 5's programming Saturday.

Fox and Cox will meet Monday at a Board of Supervisors meeting to discuss their stands. Board Chairman Katherine K. Hanley, at-large Democrat, decided to organize a meeting between the sides for the board's first meeting this year.

"We are asking them to come before the board to explain their dispute to us and the public," Mrs. Hanley said.

The supervisors, who recently approved Cox's purchase from former cable provider Media General, have no power to end the dispute. They can only hope, said Supervisor Gerald Connolly, Providence Democrat.

With the two sides at an impasse, cable subscribers in Fairfax County, Fredericksburg and parts of Stafford and Spotsylvania counties cannot watch Channel 5 without a satellite dish or antenna. The channel shows such favorites as "The Simpsons," "Ally McBeal" and "The X-Files."

Mr. Connolly wrote to Los Angeles-based Fox and Atlanta-based Cox, asking for a cool-off period and for Fox to immediately reinstate Channel 5.

Fox did not agree to bring back Channel 5.

The feud will not affect Saturday's Washington Redskins playoff game against the Detroit Lions, which will be shown on ABC. However, if the Redskins win and the cable dispute is not resolved, Northern Virginia fans will not be able to see the Redskins play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next weekend. Sunday's Dallas Cowboys-Minnesota Vikings game also will not be shown.

The dispute is over two extra channels Fox is demanding that Cox carry in its new retransmission contract: Movie channel FXM and 24-hour international sports channel Fox Sports World.

Nationwide, Cox cut Fox programming for 430,000 cable-TV subscribers in Northern Virginia, Cleveland, Dallas, Houston, and Austin, Texas. Cox has 6 million U.S. subscribers.

Fox wrote in a letter to the Board of Supervisors that it is "willing to consider a cooling-off period provided some resolution of the current impasse appears impossible."

"Cox agrees with us unconditionally," Mr. Connolly said. "They are willing to talk. Fox is a little more complicated … but I think they leave the door open in the last paragraph. I choose to interpret that as the glass is half full."

Fox's doubts aren't ungrounded, said Fox spokesman Tom Tyrer. The contract that allowed Cox and its predecessor, Media General, to carry Channel 5 expired May 31, and Fox granted two extensions. Fox reached agreements with other cable and satellite companies, but not with Cox.

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