Just before Christmas I did a sharp double-take when thumbing through the Advertiser with our morning coffee—Cox was running expensive full-page, color ads promoting TV5 Monde, the french channel. While I didn't spit out any coffee I was taken aback. Cox, you see, has never before pretended to be a friend of Lousiana's French speakers and this kind of promotion is a particularly galling extension of the corporation's continued attempts to ingratiate itself with the Lafayette community after taking a brutal hit to its public relations image during the fiber referendum battle.
One of the mistakes Cox made during the fiber fight was a set of channel changes that included moving the French channel from basic cable into the stratosphere of channel 226, a location that required both a set top box rental and a the purchase of a special, costly, upper tier add-on package. In a city where the last census showed that 13% of the people spoke french in the home that seemed, and seems, pretty outrageous. Many of those speakers will be in our poorer communities and will be disproportionally older and on fixed incomes. If you speak french as a first language, or are simply determined to keep Louisiana's francophone heritage active this change was a huge blow...making mass media access to french content more obscure and more expensive. At that time—soon after the storms—Cox also moved the weather channel off basic cable and up into a more expensive channel package. These, and changes to the on-screen channel guide were all intended to drive users off the cheaper, bandwidth intensive lower channels and up onto the more lucrative digital channels that required a rental set top box.
Needless to say people weren't happy with these changes which pretty blatantly were the sorts of decisions made by corporate honchos in Atlanta who were unappreciative of the local cultures or the facts of life for those living in the Gulf's vulnerable coastal cities. (See examples of LPF coverage @ A, B, C.) After complaints across south Louisiana (in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Lafayette) Cox moved the weather channel back onto a cheaper tier. But TV5 has been permanently moved to an expensive upper-tier ghetto where it is paired with, of all things, a set of specialty sports sites.
The contrast between LUS and Cox on this issue is stark. If you want TV5's French language programming and have access to LUS Fiber then your best choice is LUS...it's on a basic tier that doesn't require the rental of a set top box or a more expensive digital tier. On Cox you'll need to rent a digital box to get service and opt for a specialized, mostly sports, package.
The Cheapest Packages with TV5 from LUS Fiber and Cox:
—LUS Fiber: on Expanded Basic @ channel 71: $46.95, no set top box: $0, Total: $46.95
—Cox: on Advanced TV Preferred @ channel 266: $64.98, required set top box: $5.25, Total: $70.23
LUS advantage: $23.28 a month or $279.38 a year...
And that's before you add on other one-time charges. Suppose that, in reaction to Cox's full page ads in regional newspapers, your old Tante Sue is so delighted at the prospect of French TV that she decides to take the plunge and get some of that cable television. She'd be hit with a connection fee of $53.95 (and possibly various and sundry other cabling fees to get service where her TV is). Even if Tante already has Cox and only has to upgrade to digital to get that channel back she'll still pay $53.95 to only upgrade to digital! Cox, your ersatz "friend in the digital age" doesn't particularly want to come visiting...and charges accordingly. And you've got that silly extra set of sports channels to click through. So if you want to watch some of your TV in French you'll end up paying $333.31 more to buy it from Cox than you would if purchased it from LUS during your first year.
Now maybe Tante Sue already has that fancy digital TV stuff and only has to switch to the package that contains it...but she'll have to give up one of those other "packages" to switch into the "Sports and Information Pak." So she sits down and has to decide to give up the Turner's old movie channel or the Cooking channel, or...some other favorite of hers to get a channel in French. Or, of course she could upgrade to higher priced service to get the privilege of adding TV5. No doubt helpful sales agents will suggest that...and that will cost her an additional $6.00 dollars a month.
By contrast LUS Fiber doesn't do all that contract, install fee nonsense. It's simple—French TV is in a basic tier...you get it for no extra cost, no monthly box fee, and don't have to give up other channels to get it. Pay for "expanded basic" @ $46.95 a month and add nothing on. End of story.
Cox's French language offer is simply not a credible competitor with LUS'. Which brings up the issue of why Cox is bothering to dump substantial advertising dollars into full page color advertising. Well, two reasons. 1) PR, "public relations." It looks good to be promoting the French language, particularly in Lafayette, the largest city in the French speaking areas of Louisiana. It doesn't hurt that such ads promote a sense that Cox "cares" about local people and local issues. Cox has been doing its best to counter the lousy PR it gave itself during the fiber fight and promoting French is an apple and babies sort of issue: who could oppose it? 2) through most of the area of Cox's "greater Louisiana" district, which ranges from Gonzales through Baton Rouge and over to Lafayette there is a distinct, well-established French subculture. Somebody (finally) figured that out. There are certainly many "Tante Sue's" out there and it wouldn't take many of them being pushed to buy cable outside Lafayette or upgrade to digital or higher tiers to substantially increase Cox's profit. And that, I imagine, is what clinched the argument with the higher-ups in Atlanta when the promotion was pitched.
The moral of this story is that there is a difference between supporting local communities and exploiting them...LUS Fiber is providing native language support to the traditional local communities with minimal barriers. Cox is providing French to burnish its local reputation and make some bucks. Motivation matters and Lafayette's French speakers should be pleased to have a community-owned alternative to the national corporation that offers much better prices and more widely available placement for the French channel.
Lagniappe: Cox has tried (and failed) before to make cozy with Lafayette by pretending a fellowship with the french strand of our heritage; that much cruder era was exemplified by the infamous TJCrawdad. and the "down-home" ad that used an actor delivering the generic "hick" Arkansas accent and a Cox delivery van with Texas plates to tout their local bona fides.