Cox Business Services will supply the town of Cumberland, R.I., with phone service over Cox's cable network, potentially saving the small town 29 percent annually on its phone bills. The $10,000-a-year deal is part of Cox's $300 million network upgrade in Rhode Island and of the state's economic development efforts.

Cox Business Services VP and GM Mark P. Scott says the service, over the company's Centrex product, was activated at the end of last week.

"It was pretty straightforward," he says of logistics. Cox used the existing infrastructure but put in drop wires and connected the system inside the buildings. The service gives an alternative to PBX systems with off-site extensions, he says.

Instead, the service connects the departments via four-digit extensions, instead of phone numbers. Cox says the four-digit deal avoids outside, per-minute calls and lets the connected departments call anywhere in the state at local rates. It also saves on long-distance. As a result, Scott says, the town estimates it can save 29 percent a year on phone bills.

So far, Town Hall and the business lines for Rescue Services, Parks & Recreation, the Water Department, and Animal Control have been switched to Centrex. The system doesn't affect the town's 911 capabilities.

Cox says it will announce another deal at the end of the week, entailing a similar system for the East Granby Schools in Connecticut. The $12,000-a-year contract that includes Internet access services and phone services through Cox's network.

"We hope this is a good start of a trend," Scott says.