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Cox Employees Accused of Creating Fake Accounts, Adding Services to Inflate Bonuses

Phillip Dampier July 11, 2018 Consumer News, Cox, Video No Comments

Cox Communications sales representatives are accused of creating fake accounts and adding extra services to existing customers’ bills without authorization in hopes of scoring monthly bonuses of $10,000 or more.

WJLA-TV’s I-Team reports two whistleblowers have come forward to tell the Washington, D.C. station Cox employees are still defrauding customers to line their own pockets, despite repeated attempts to alert senior management and company claims the fraud was limited to a few now ex-employees.

“How far they’re going for a commission payout, to affect thousands of people, it’s a heinous, greedy act,” former Cox Communications employee Anna Wilkinson told WJLA. Fraud is allegedly rampant in the Mid-Atlantic region where Wilkinson worked, and it involves hundreds, if not thousands of bogus charges and accounts. Wilkinson reports some customers have had five to seven different accounts opened in their name using multiple addresses. Other customers are discovering services they did not request suddenly added to their bills.

Wilkinson blew the whistle on Cox’s fraud problem.

What motivates sales representatives to get “creative” with customer accounts is Cox’s lucrative bonus system that rewards agents that sign up the most new customers or add services to an existing account. The worst offenders are earning more than $12,000 a month from the fraud, and some have assembled large “black books” filled with valid customer Social Security numbers and other information gleaned from Cox’s customer database.

“Hundreds and hundreds of Social Security numbers, along with people’s first and last names, their address, birthdays” are involved, said Wilkinson. Sources told WJLA a favorite target for the scheme are ex-renters leaving an apartment building. When the disconnect request arrives, the reps use that person’s information to open multiple new accounts around that apartment complex.

“You have sales reps knowing who moves in and out of apartments,” the source said. “So they set up multiple accounts starting with one apartment like ‘Apartment 241.’ Then, another fake account in 540 and Apartment 352. All the fake accounts are then placed under one person’s name that use to live in Apartment 449.”

The representative can return to unsuspecting ex-renter time and time again to make their sales quota and earn bonus commissions.

“Let’s say he sold them cable and internet and added the phone to the service,” the source said. “That’s three sales. Move that person four times that’s 12 sales. If you do that 10 times that’s 120 sales [and] you have over 90 percent of your quota already done.”

Wilkinson said she filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Virginia State Attorney General’s Office.

A representative from Cox Communications issued this statement in response to the report:

“We have stringent ethical and privacy standards that all employees are required to abide by. In instances where those standards are not adhered to, we take immediate action that can result in employee terminations. If there is a situation where a customer’s personally identifiable information is believed to have been compromised, we notify the customer and work with them to rectify. Cox has fraud alert measures in place and have taken other steps to help prevent this from happening. Nonetheless, like many companies, we have had isolated instances of employees not living up to our standards of behavior. Recently we learned of a small number of employees in Virginia who violated our policies. A thorough investigation occurred and those employees have since been terminated. An internal audit was also conducted ensuring that no customers’ personally identifiable information was compromised. We take these matters very seriously, and remain committed to protecting the safety of our customers’ information through our business policies and practices.

WJLA in Washington reports Cox’s sales agents are lining their own pockets opening fraudulent accounts. (3:09)

Happy Holidays 2018 Rate Hike from Cox

Phillip Dampier December 13, 2017 Consumer News, Cox 1 Comment

Cox Communications, which spent much of 2017 implementing data caps and overlimit fees on its broadband customers, is back for more with plans for sweeping rate increases that take effect Jan. 7, 2018.

According to a bill notification received by a DSL Reports reader, a long list of video packages will increase from $1-5 a month, with lower amounts for slimmed down TV packages and higher increases for Contour TV packages. Cox will collect even more from a big boost to its Broadcast TV Surcharge, rising from $4 a month to $7.50. Only one channel — Playboy — will see a significant rate cut (from $19.95 to $15.99).

Cox TV Package Rate Increases (effective Jan. 7, 2018)

Flex Watch will change from $40.00 to $41.00.
TV Economy will change from $34.99 to $38.00.
TV Essential will change from $75.99 to $79.99.
Contour TV will change from $79.99 to $84.99.
Contour TV Ultimate will change from $161.99 to 166.99.
Contour TV Preferred will change from $91.99 to $96.99.
Contour TV Premier will change from $105.99 to $108.99.
Advanced TV Ultimate will change from $158.99 to $161.99.
Advanced TV Ultimate with 4 Premiums will change from $167.99 to $170.99.
Advanced TV Ultimate with 4 Premiums and Record 6 DVR will change from $165.99 to $168.99.
Paquete Latino will change from $35.00 to $36.00.
El Mix will change from $52.49 to $53.49.
Super Mix will change from $89.99 to $94.99.
Flex Watch Latino will change from $13.51 to $14.51.
TV Economy Latino will change from $44.99 to $48.00.
Contour TV Latino will change from $89.99 to $94.99.
Contour TV Latino Preferred will change from $101.99 to $106.99.
Contour TV Latino Ultimate will change from $175.99 to $178.99.
Entertainment Package with 3 Premiums will change from $138.24 to $143.24.
Entertainment Package with 4 Premiums will change from $149.74 to $154.74.
CableCARD will change from $2.00 to $2.99.
Playboy will change from $19.95 to $15.99.
The Broadcast Surcharge will change from $4.00 to $7.50.

Substantial rate hikes are also forthcoming for Cox’s internet packages, rising $2-4 a month when bundled with at least one other service.

Cox High Speed Internet Rate Increases

Starter will change from $34.99 to $36.99.
Essential will change from $52.99 to $55.99.
Preferred will change from $67.99 to $71.99.
Preferred 100 will change from $72.99 to $76.99.
Premier will change from $79.99 to $82.99.

Cox is also risking losing customers for its digital phone service, which often gets targeted for cancellation when there are sweeping rate hikes. Cox seemed undeterred, boosting some basic plan prices while dropping others.

Cox Digital Telephone Rate Increases

Starter will change from $13.99 to $14.99.
Economy will change from $18.50 to $18.39.
Starter Lifeline will change from $10.99 to $11.74.
Essential Lifeline will change from $21.99 to $21.74.
Premier Lifeline will change from $31.99 to $31.74.
An Additional Telephone Line will change from $13.99 to $14.99.
The FCC Access Fee will change from $7.10 to $6.00.
The Cost Recovery Fee will change from $1.49 to $1.60.
Toll Restriction will change from $1.49 to $1.60.

A Cox spokesperson said the rate increases were to cover increased programming expenses, as well as recovering some of the investments Cox has made to improve its equipment and broadband service. Customers on a promotional rate plan are unaffected by the rate increases until their current promotion expires.

Cable Operators Talk Broadband Capacity and Upgrades

With many cable operators reporting a need to double network capacity every 18-24 months to keep up with customer traffic demands, the industry is spending time and money contemplating how to meet future needs while also finding ways to cut costs and make networks more efficient.

Top technology executives from five major cable operators answered questions (sub. req’d.) from Multichannel News about their current broadband networks and their plans for the future. Some, like Mediacom, are aggressively adopting DOCSIS 3.1 cable broadband upgrades for their customers while companies like Cox and Comcast are deploying multiple solutions that use both traditional hybrid fiber-coax network technology and, on occasion, fiber-to-the-home to boost speed and performance. But at least one cable company — Charter Communications — thinks it can continue operating its existing DOCSIS 3 network without major upgrades for several years to come.

Cable Broadband Traffic Can Be Handled

“We’ve been on a pretty steady path of doubling our network capacity every 18-24 months for several years, and I don’t see anything that makes me think that will change,” said Tony Werner, president of technology and product at Comcast. “We’ve been strategically extending fiber further into our network to meet customer demand, and that effort, combined with our commitment to deploying DOCSIS 3.1 has given us a network that’s powerful, flexible, and ready for what’s next.”

J.R. Walden, senior vice president of technology at Mediacom was more aggressive.

“We have completed the removal of all the analog channels. That was the big step one,” Walden said. “Step two was to start transitioning high-speed data over to DOCSIS 3.1, so we’re not adding any more 3.0 channels, and reuse spectrum for 3.1, which is a bit more efficient. The whole company is 3.1, all the modems we’re buying since June have been 3.1, so we’ve begun that next transition.”

Walden added Mediacom is also trying to improve broadband performance by reducing the number of customers sharing the same connection.

“We average about 285 homes to 290 homes per node as an average,” he said.

Mediacom is also scrapping older technology on the TV side to open new bandwidth. The cable company is getting rid of MPEG-2-only set-top boxes so the company can transition its video lineup to MPEG-4. But even that won’t last long. Walden admits the company will then quickly start moving less-viewed channels and some premium networks to IP delivery.

Traditional cable broadband service relies on a hybrid fiber-coax network.

In its European markets, Liberty Global has adopted Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) equipment across its footprint. CCAP technology saves cable operators space and operates more efficiently, and supports future convergence of technologies that cable operators want to adopt in the future. CCAP has helped Liberty Global deal with its 45% traffic growth by making upgrades easier. The company is also using advanced features of CCAP to better balance how many customers are sharing a connection. The next step is adopting DOCSIS 3.1.

“Seventy to 80% of our plant will be DOCSIS 3.1 ready by the end of next year, giving us a path to even greater capacity expansion allowing us to continue to increase the available capacity across our access network, upstream and downstream,” said Dan Hennessy, chief architect of network architecture for Liberty.

Charter is prioritizing maximizing performance on the network it already has.

“Our priority is to constantly balance capacity against demand. It’s a never-ending quest,” said Jay Rolls, Charter’s chief technology officer. “We watch it very closely, and we’re very pragmatic about it — the volume of tools, metrics and ways to see what’s really happening, and invest accordingly, is really deepening in ways that matter.”

Is Fiber-to-the-Home in Your Future?

While some cable operators like Altice’s Cablevision are scrapping their existing hybrid fiber-coax networks in favor of fiber-to-the-home (FTTH), America’s largest cable operators are not in any hurry to follow Altice.

Comcast has expanded its fiber network closer to customers in the last few years, but sees no need to convert customers to FTTH service.

“I feel pretty strongly that the best path ahead is to leverage the existing coaxial network and DOCSIS resources to the fullest, then inch towards FTTH, over time Why? Because we can. We don’t have to build an entire network just to turn up one customer.”

The next generation of cable broadband service may depend on CCAP – technology that will cut operator costs and lay the foundation for changing the way video and other services are delivered to customers.

Cox has a 10-year Network 2.0 plan that will bring fiber closer to customers, but not directly to every home. More important to Cox is having the option to support symmetrical speeds, which means delivering upload speeds as fast as download speeds.

“We’re also thinking about the fiber investment and fiber deep as it relates to our wireless strategy, enabling some of our customers with a small cell strategy but also positioning ourselves to take advantage of that in the future, as well as thinking about fiber deep to benefit both residential and our commercial customers simultaneously,” said Kevin Hart, Cox’s executive vice president and chief product and technology officer.

Liberty/Virgin Media’s Project Lightning is bringing cable broadband and TV service to places in the UK that never had cable service before.

In Europe, Liberty Global’s “Project Lightning” network expansion initiative is building out traditional cable service in the United Kingdom. Most of the UK never adopted cable service, favoring small satellite dish service instead. Now Liberty Global is putting cable expansion on its priority list. But decades after most North Americans got cable service for the first time, today’s new buildouts are based largely on fiber optics — either fiber to the home or fiber to the neighborhood, where coaxial cable completes the journey to a customer’s home.

Charter admits the technology it will use in the future partly depends on what the competition is offering. Rolls says the company can eventually roll out DOCSIS 3.1, take fiber deeper, or offer symmetrical download/upload speeds presumably targeted towards its commercial customers. But he also suggested Charter’s existing network can continue to deliver acceptable levels of service without spending a lot on major upgrades.

“It’s a rational approach, where we’re trying to balance the needs, the available technologies, and the costs,” Rolls said. But he also suggested DOCSIS 3.1 isn’t always the answer to upgrades. “DOCSIS 3.1 has some pretty remarkable capabilities, but it’s not necessarily a hard-and-fast reason to not take fiber deeper, for instance [allowing for additional DOCSIS 3 node splits]. Different situations drive different capacity decisions.”

Walden agreed, and Mediacom customers should not expect more than DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades for the near future.

“[Fiber deep] is a bit further out, at least as a large-scale type of project,” Walden told Multichannel News. “I think fiber deep for multi-dwelling units, high-density areas and some planned higher end communities doing deeper fiber or fiber-to-the-home [is happening]. But as a wholesale [change] and going to node+0 kind of architecture, I don’t see that in the next two years.”

Are Symmetrical Speeds Important for Customers?

Verizon’s fiber to the home service FiOS uses symmetrical broadband speeds to its advantage in the marketplace.

Many fiber to the home networks offer customers identical upload and download speeds, but cable broadband was designed to favor downstream speeds over upstream. That decision was based on the premise the majority of users will receive much more traffic than they send. But as the internet evolves, some are wondering if cable broadband’s asymmetric design is now outdated and some competitors like Verizon’s FiOS fiber to the home service now use its symmetrical speed advantage as a selling point.

Cox Communications does not think most customers care, even though its network upgrades are laying the foundation to deliver symmetrical speeds.

“It’s a little but further out on the horizon,” said Hart. “The upstream growth rate is ticking up a couple of notches, but not to the tune that we would need significant additional capacity and/or a complementary need for symmetrical bandwidth. [A]t this stage, the symmetrical is a nice-to-have for residential and definitely will be a good option for our commercial customers.”

Rolls isn’t sure if symmetrical speeds are important to customers either and Charter has no specific plans to move towards upload speed upgrades.

“The world of applications and services continues to evolve, obviously, but so far we’ve been able to meet those needs with an asymmetrical topology,” Rolls said. “That said, things like real-time gaming, augmented and virtual reality, and the Internet of Things — some of those will likely drive more symmetry in the network. It remains to be seen.”

Cox Introducing $50 Option to Waive Data Caps: The ‘Freedom from Extortion Plan’

As Cox Communications continues to expand its arbitrary data cap program on its broadband customers, the company has announced a ‘cap relief’ option for customers willing to pay $50 more for the same service they enjoyed last year without a data cap.

Company insiders tell DSL Reports Cox will introduce a new $50 option to avoid the data caps and overlimit fees the company began imposing in 2015 starting in its Cleveland, Ohio service area.

On Wednesday, Cox is expected to introduce two add-on options to help avoid the bill shock likely if customers exceed 1TB of usage per month and face the $10 overlimit fee for each 50GB of data consumed:

  • $30 a month for 500GB of extra data;
  • $50 a month to avoid data caps altogether and get back unlimited service.

Cox customers in Cleveland were unimpressed with Cox’s data caps when they were introduced in 2015.

These fees are in addition to whatever Cox customers currently pay for broadband service.

“An overwhelming majority of data is consumed by a very small percentage of internet users,” a memo to employees documenting the changes reads. “The new choices are great options for the small percentage of heavy users who routinely use 1TB+ per month and prefer a flat monthly rate, rather than purchasing additional data blocks. In Cox markets with usage-based billing, the less than two percent of customers who exceed the amount of data included in their plan still have the option of paying $10 for each additional 50GB of data when they need it.”

Such claims raise the same questions Stop the Cap! has always asked since we began fighting data caps in 2008:

If data caps only impact <2% of customers, why impose them at all?

Is the actual revenue earned from overlimit fees worth the expense of introducing usage measurement tools, billing system changes, and the cost of customer dissatisfaction at the prospect of an unexpectedly high bill?

What technical reasons did Cox choose 1TB as its arbitrary usage allowance other than the fact Comcast and other operators chose this level first?

Time Warner Cable executives privately admitted in internal company documents obtained by the New York Attorney General’s office that internet traffic costs represent little more than “a rounding error” in expenses for cable companies. But for most consumers, $30-50 to buy a bigger data allowance is hardly that.

In short, the “solution” Cox has decided on this week comes in response to a problem the company itself created — imposing arbitrary, unwanted data caps and overlimit fees on a product that is already intensely profitable at the prices Cox has charged for years. This internet overcharging scheme is just another way to gouge captive customers that will likely have only one alternative — the phone company and its various flavors of DSL or a U-verse product that cannot compete on speed unless you are lucky enough to live in a fiber-to-the-home service area.

NY Post: Charter Wants to Buy Cox Communications; Alaska’s GCI Will Eventually Become Charter

Three unnamed sources told the New York Post Charter Communications is seeking to acquire privately held Cox Communications, despite repeated assertions from the family owned Cox it is not for sale.

“Tom wants to buy Cox,” said one “highly placed cable source.” Another confirmed the news, but notes Charter has not yet approached Cox with a deal. “If they’re going to sell it to anyone, they’re going to sell it to an old cable guy.”

Cox is America’s third-largest cable company with 6.2 million subscribers. A combination with Charter would still leave Comcast as the nation’s largest cable company. Wall Street has pushed cable companies towards further consolidation, and if Charter doesn’t approach Cox, it is highly likely Altice USA will.

Cox told the newspaper all of this attention is unwanted.

“Cox has been very clear and consistent that we are not for sale and, in fact, we’re aggressively investing in our network, products and strategic partnerships and investments of our own,” Cox spokesman Todd Smith told The Post on Wednesday.

But some cable watchers expect Cox may not want to stay in the family if the price is right. In April, Alex Taylor, the great-grandson of founder James Cox was named Cox’s next CEO, starting Jan. 1, 2018.

Charter may also eventually grow by at least 100,000 new subscribers as John Malone’s Liberty Interactive’s ownership of Alaska-based GCI might not last long. Cable watchers predict Malone will flip GCI to Charter Communications after the deal closes, which would result in a likely quick rebrand of GCI as Charter/Spectrum.

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