R.I. Cable Pioneer Donofrio Dies at 79

John Donofrio, who vociferously fought back when Cox Communications Inc. came to town to overbuild his tiny Rhode Island cable operation, died on Aug. 27 at age 78 at Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket, R.I.

The gruff operator received his first license in 1965, when the East Providence City Council approved his application. It would be another nine years before the state would give Donofrio and eight other applicants authority to operate.

The business became Full Channel Cable Television Inc., and Donofrio was president and owner. At the beginning, he borrowed $8 million from a state bank and took over a former Jehovah’s Witness temple in Warren, R.I., as a base of operations.

He installed about 300 miles of cable in Warren, Barrington and Bristol and began delivering signal to customers in 1984.

The company lays claim to many firsts, such as its efforts to produce daily local programming in Portuguese.

By 2000, Donofrio’s company was one of only two independent operators remaining in Rhode Island.

His greatest challenge came in 2002, when Cox decided it wanted to extend its reach and petitioned the state’s Public Utilities Commission to overbuild Warren, Barrington and Bristol, where Full Channel passed about 20,000 homes.

Donofrio fought back hard, examining every line in the agreement to insure that Cox would meet every requirement that had been applied to his small operation.

The state ultimately gave permission for the overbuild and Full Channel took a hit in its customer base.

In reports filed with the state, the company’s last report counted just over 8,000 video customers, a drop from its high of about 12,000.

But Full Channel remained profitable, according to the report, because the competitive pressure compelled Donofrio and his executives to find a way to upgrade and create partnerships that allowed Full Channel to offer more products, including high-speed Internet and telephony.

A Full Channel petition to overbuild Cox in East Providence remains before the PUC.

Surviving Donofrio are his wife, three daughters, four grandsons, a sister and a stepbrother.