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Excite@Home taps Cox for TV services

Cable operator Cox Communications signs an agreement with Excite@Home to test the high-speed Net access company's new enhanced television service.

Cable operator Cox Communications today signed an agreement with Excite@Home to test the high-speed Net access company's new enhanced television service.

The agreement, announced at the cable industry's annual Western Cable Show in Los Angeles, calls for the two companies to develop advanced TV features and services, and to test those new features next year in at least one of Cox's major cable markets.

Cox is one of the first customers for Excite@Home's TV service, which will allow viewers to read and send email, make purchases and view personalized programming guides. The service is expected to become commercially available next year.

Excite@Home has also announced that it is in talks with Microsoft to expand their two-year relationship for the development of new TV set-top box applications.

Enhanced television and set-top box services are said to be the next wave in home entertainment, and many in the cable industry are aggressively upgrading aging high-speed networks to be able to provide advanced services, including Net access. AT&T, one of the many partners in Excite@Home, and other cable firms have made major commitments to buy set-top box equipment that will deliver data services over television.

The cable television deal marks a new direction for Excite@Home, which is looking to broaden its service offerings and prepare for increasing competition in the broadband arena.

The company already is the nation's largest high-speed Net access company, recently topping 1 million customers, but Excite@Home executives have long viewed television as a way to tap mainstream users who have not yet embraced the Internet.

"This agreement underscores the mutual commitment we have to Cox and its customers to offer convenient and useful enhanced TV services," Adam Grosser, president of subscriber networks for Excite@Home, said in a statement.

For its part, Cox has been one of the most aggressive cable operators at deploying new services, according to analysts. The company has a growing customer base for cable-based local telephone service, and Cox has led other cable partners in deploying Excite@Home's Net service.

Cox operates several large cable systems including in San Diego, Phoenix and New Orleans.