Monday, August 21, 2006

Cox Lineup Changes Stir Up Discontent

Cox's lineup changes have elicited a lot of resentment locally. The trouble, of course, is that the changes seem more than a little self-serving and that Cox seems incapable of responding in any way that doesn't underline their arrogance.

I've recently convered the TiVo debacle and complaints about dropping the weather channel off the basic tier in the middle of hurricane season emerged early. But in the last week we've seen a flurry of responses that make it clear that all is not well with Cox's public relations.

The Cox lineup change made the top of the cover of the Independent ("Rate Storm") this week, demonstrating that the editors think it will move papers. The Ind was given good material to work with too...the article reveals the misleading Cox's PR response to criticism has been. The article points out that Cox has pulled popular channels off basic cable and moved them to a tier that would cost a user 194% --almost twice--what they were paying to get those channels before. Cox's motivation is obvious. Cox PR spokesperson Sharon Kleinpeter (who gets the unpleasant jobs) claimed that secret agreements with its suppliers forced them to move The Weather Channel off basic. But the story points out that the Weather Channel flatly denies any such contractual obligations apply. And the channel remains on basic in storm-wracked New Orleans.

It's not the Weather Channel's fault any more than the TiVo mess was users fault. It was a "business" decision made by Cox and blaming someone else, as Cox is wont to do, may get Ms Kleinpeter out of an uncomfortable interview but it does the company no good in the long run. Cox needs to understand that Lafayette at least will no longer just accept such nonsense as "fact" with out checking it out. Cox long since has blown its credibility. Competition is coming and in a competitive environment being believeable in you claims about current and upcoming services is crucial. You can't win over customers who dont' believe a word you say.

As the story makes clear Cox understands the growing hostility it is engendering--it has abandoned its former practice of gathering public input before making changes; probably correctly sensing that the level of hostility that has developed over the last two years means that sponsoring a public forum that allowed criticism of its policies would be a nightmare. The company also shorted the city-parish government on notification time and is revealed as not meeting its contractual obligations to Acadiana Open Channel. Ms Kleinpeter claims not to have seen letters sent to Cox a week before her interview...un hunh. The story closes with a sadly accurate observation:
“At the end of the day, I don’t think Cox [will] give a hoot about any contract,” says AOC Executive Director Ed Bowie. “They’re nearly invincible, and they know it.”
Even with the smokescreen that Cox's PR person puts out local letters to the editor reveals that citizens see through the misdirection Cox puts out. In the Advertiser the letter "Competition needed in the cable industry" expresses outrage at the loss of the Weather Channel and advocates:
I think it's time for some competition. The area city councils and mayors need to start checking into getting a new cable company and break up the Cox monopoly that has gotten out of hand.
As second letter, "Rumbling in land is about Cox cable," is even more direct about the discontent Cox's behavior over the last few years has caused. The author advocates dropping Cox cable entirely and switching to satellite.
Don't forget that Cox (and BellSouth to this day) are fighting the LUS fiber-to-the-home project, preventing us from getting cheaper rates on TV, telephone and Internet service. We can't hurt Cox much by dropping them. They are too big to notice, but we can help ourselves. We have a choice. I have exercised mine. I've saved a few dollars and gotten more for my money. All it takes is a phone call.
It's not pretty. And Cox brought it on themselves.

The incumbents have been amazingly inept in dealing with Lafayette. Cox at one point showed signs of getting smart by bringing a personable woman to front the division and hiring the governor's Lafayette-based daughter to represnt it but the PR insight that showed appears to have had little effect on actual policy decisions. There the new Cox remains the same as the old Cox--and PR without substance is a hard sell.

Should the public ever find out who has funded the delaying lawsuits the proverbial stuff will really hit the fan. The incumbents are playing dangerous games with public opinion--games that were much safer when they could rest assured that their monoply status meant that "they're nearly invincible." Times are a' changing and Lafayette's citizens are showing little signs of forgetting recent offenses.

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