Monday, June 04, 2007

Cox Talks to the Trade Press

Back in February, in a story I missed then, Cox's Baton Rouge unit was treated to a profile story in Multichannel News, a leading industry trade magazine. (Baton Rouge Beefs Up To Meet Demand Surge). It's a very interesting story in which Cox Baton Rouge--then recently merged with Lafayette's Acadiana unit to form the new "Greater Louisiana" marketing unit--tells its own story to its colleagues in a sympathetic forum. It is revealing of how Cox wants its knowledgeable industry friends to regard it.

One thing that leaps out is that it doesn't try to blow as much smoke about its network and discusses network upgrades fairly frankly. For instance, it notes that the local unit was participating in the Cox-wide program of expanding bandwidth from 750 Megaherz to 860 Mhz. Hopefully that will improve its Video On Demand capacity in my neighborhood. (1, 2) But the story also reveals that Cox has not, contrary to its vauge assertions and local rebranding efforts, been not building out fiber in Lafayette, apparently not even in its fiber backbone--but has in Baton Rouge. According to the story in the last year:

In response to the market’s growth, the system last year added about 130 miles of new coaxial cable and 65 miles of fiber in Baton Rouge, and 61 miles of coaxial cable in the Lafayette cluster.

Even sixty one miles of new copper is nothing to sneeze at but the copper coax portion of a hybrid fiber coax (HFC) architecture is mostly in the last mile--and one is lead to presume that this new coax is predominantly in new subdivisions in our "cluster." But this does confirm that the local rebranding of Cox's network as a "fiber" network is truly misleading...nothing is altering Cox's committment to HFC and its disavowal of FTTH. (I'd be happy to be shown otherwise.)

However the article chiefly focuses on Katrina's consequences and the merger of the Baton Rouge and Lafayette markets. Both lead to a much larger market with Cox adding more than 5000 customers post-Katrina. That brings its combined total to 291,551. A very respectable combined market. The story also makes it clear that the Acadiana unit was absorbed into the Baton Rouge one and not simply combined. (That was certainly the experience here where the distinctive local elements like lower pricing, and a French and weather channel on basic cable were "aligned" to the Baton Rouge pattern.)

The integration of the Lafayette system, which is about 50 miles southwest of Baton Rouge, has involved a number of initiatives. For example, Cox Greater Louisiana has aligned the channel lineups — and retail pricing — across the Baton Rouge and the Lafayette clusters.

More broadly, Cox has tried to more fully absorb and acculturate the Lafayette cluster, so that it conforms to the company’s corporate strategy: That its cable systems offer state-of-the-art technology, be perceived as doing so and be very involved in their communities.

The bit about being "very involved" with their communities was directly tied to LUS--presented as simply a "municipal overbuilder:"

There was a need to forge closer ties with the community in Lafayette, where Cox faces competition from a municipal overbuilder, Lafayette Utilities System, Vines said.

The overbuilder “was pushing that it was bringing fiber to the home, but there was really not a sense that Cox was doing that as well,” Vines said.

“Louisiana is very parochial,” she said. “It’s a very relationship-oriented state. So as we were integrating the Lafayette system we had to introduce ourselves, reintroduce Cox Communications … to make sure [customers] understood we had fiber and they didn’t necessarily have to go with our competitor.”

No mention, of course, that Cox fought a bitter, losing battle, much of it covered in the magazine, to prevent this "overbuilder" from building a competitive network. In truth, most of the need to repair its relationship in Lafayette was NOT due to our "parochial" nature but to Cox's many blunders during the fiber fight—the first and most serious of those blunders being to oppose the clearly stated desires of the community for a fiber network. Vines is blowing a bit of smoke in implying to her fellows that their fiber was similar to LUS'. It isn't of course; fiber "in" the network is universal--both AT&T and Cox have fiber cores--and so will LUS. What makes a network a fiber network in the usual usage is that it takes fiber all the way to the home. That is what Lafayette fought for and the people here understand (correctly) that that is what "fiber network" means. Changing the description of your network from HFC to "fiber" in order to pretend that it is the same as what LUS will be offering is a continuation of the deceptive tactics Cox used during the fiber fight. If Cox really wants to repair its relationship with Lafayette ceasing its attempts to mislead us would make a better start than helping pay for Chamber diners or being a sponsor of Festival Internationale.

There are other interesting bits of insight scattered through the article. Take a look for yourself if you are a connoisseur of all things telecom in Lafayette.

One final bit of fun: The story reveals that Jaqui Vines, the new head of the "Greater Louisiana" section is a Ray Nagin protege. Yes, the same Ray Nagin that is mayor of New Orleans and was General Manager of Cox New Orleans. He hired her away from Time-Warner during his tenure in the New Orleans' Cox system. It's a small world down here. Sometimes it is a bit "parochial" down here in the sense that personal relationships do count...at least who Jaqui Vines knew proved helpful.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

So who are the other fiber players in the Lafayette area? Who should a new cusumer to the market pay their hard earned cash to in order to avoid the nightmare that is Cox communication for high speed internet access at least .. is there another option for TV in this market?

John said...

Anon,

There are no FTTH players in Lafayette. Yet. Lafayette Utility System will fill that niche. Begining in about 18 months for the first households.

There is no one other than Cox in Lafayette for cable TV...other than satellite.

You can go with AT&T for internet access in parts of the city. But just where and how fast is not visible until you are far into the ordering process. (Proprietary information they say..cough, cough. I've never figured out how providing the consumer with basic information on service availability and quality BEFORE ordering was "propietary.")