Nathan Stubbs

Cox Responds to EATEL Ad

by Nathan Stubbs

Cox Communications Vice President of Public Affairs Sharon Kleinpeter says Lafayette customers are eligible for a new special promotional offer that allows customers to get digital cable with HBO, preferred high speed internet and digital phone service for $75 a month (the deal comes out to $88 a month after taxes). The offer targets new and former phone service customers. Anyone with existing Cox phone service is ineligible.

Kleinpeter recognized customers have been somewhat confused about the deal since it began being advertised locally by Cox’s Ascension Parish competitor, EATEL. EATEL ran two full-page ads in Sunday’s Daily Advertiser which state, “Cox has a special pricing plan you may not know about.” The ads say that Cox is only promoting this plan in Ascension Parish, where it is competing with EATEL, even though it is also required to offer the deal elsewhere.

To guard against predatory pricing, Cox is required to file all special promotional offers with the state Public Service Commission. According to Cox Communications' filing with the PSC, the promotional package began being offered on Jan. 14, 2008 and runs through April 30th of this year. The filing requires Cox offer the same special promotions to all customers in its Greater Lafayette and Baton Rouge markets. However, there are no requirements or restrictions on how or where Cox advertises its promotions. EATEL sales and marketing director Brad Supple says Cox's aggressive promotional prices have been aimed at undercutting EATEL's prices in Ascension Parish. Supple also suggests Cox may be using revenues from areas like Lafayette and Baton Rouge, where it is the sole telecommunications provider, to offset those costs.

According to Kleinpeter, there is nothing unusual about its $75 special promotion. She says that Cox was following a common marketing practice of phasing in, or testing, its promotional offer, with a select group of customers. “We were testing [the promotional offer] first in Ascension Parish to determine whether we would then go out and advertise it in other areas.”

“It’s sort of marketing 101,” she adds. “We’ll put an offer out to a group of customers to determine if it’s a valid offer. If the response is good then we’ll offer it to other areas of our system. It’s just what we do in marketing is test, put some offers out there and see if it appeals to our customers and drive sales and then determine where we go.”

Kleinpeter said that Cox is not turning down any customers throughout the Lafayette and Baton Rouge markets that call about the special promotion. “As a matter of fact I think we’ve made several sales [in Lafayette] since the ad came out in the paper on Sunday,” she says.

In an article in this week’s Independent, I wrote about my own experience with calling Cox to ask about the special promotion. At first, the Cox sales rep told me I was ineligible for the deal and that the offer was only good for Ascension Parish customers. But when I called back and referenced Cox’s specific PSC filing – Special Promotion R-123 – the same customer sales rep then offered to sell me the deal.

Kleinpeter says that Cox is now working with all its sales reps to ensure quality customer service. “I agree that it appears that the way you were responded to seems confusing,” she says. “And we are actually following up on that right now. We have the records from your telephone calls. It may have just been an issue of training and it may have been some confusion because the offer was originally targeted for Ascension Parish, and we’re working on training for our customer service reps to make sure it’s very clear now.”

Kleinpeter also questioned the motive behind the EATEL ad. "I think it is very curious," she says. "It makes no sense to me for them to be basically attacking us in a market that they don’t even serve." Reached this morning, EATEL marketing director Supple says that EATEL stands by its ad and plans to continue running it.