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Cox Communications Betting $500 Million — And Then Some — On Ambitious Cellphone Service

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Cox Communications plans to launch its own cellphone service in the second half of 2009, an ambitious attempt to compete independently with the major carriers. Cox president Pat Esser told USA Today the company “spent $500 million buying wireless capacity in our markets. Now, we’re going to turn it on.” Plans for the service, which will mesh cellphones, landline, TV and Internet, may sound familiar; after all, Cox was one of the MSOs that formed a JV with Sprint (NYSE: S) to accomplish much of the same. But the JV fell apart earlier this year, following investments of $100 million from the operators and $100 million from Sprint — and a whole lot of hype.

Cox says users will be able to program DVRs from their handsets, as well as watch shows, access home e-mail and voice mail. No details yet on which of its markets will get the service first; Cox has 6.2 million subscribers in 15 states; urban areas include Las Vegas, San Diego, Phoenix and New Orleans. But given that much of this strategy is about competing with AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ), areas where those companies are already making video inroads would make likely targets.