James, a Cox cable-Internet customer in Irvine, California, got an unwelcome email on Tuesday from the Internet provider. Cox’s email told James, who pays $80 a month for broadband, that his 30Mbps upload speeds will soon be reduced to 10Mbps.
A Cox spokesperson told Ars that James and similar customers can keep their 30Mbps upload speeds if they upgrade to a newer modem. But that option wasn’t included in the email to customers, which created the impression that the upload-speed cut is mandatory unless they pay for a more expensive Internet plan.
The different messages given to customers and an Ars reporter suggest that Cox is trying to get people to switch to the lower-upload speed plan and is only mentioning the option of keeping the existing plan as a last resort. Based on what we’ve learned, customers who want to keep their current upload speeds and price should talk to a Cox customer-service rep and ask for that option if the rep doesn’t mention it. Customers can keep their existing modems without losing Internet service entirely, but their upload speeds will be cut unless they upgrade to a new modem and choose to keep their existing plan. Cox has about 5.3 million broadband customers in the United States.
James, who preferred to keep his last name unpublished, is not alone in getting the bad news. Cox’s “Ultimate” Internet plan with 300Mbps download and 30Mbps upload speeds was changed to a 500Mbps download, 10Mbps upload package early last year. At first, Cox let customers on the 300Mbps/30Mbps version keep it, without any nudges to change their plans or upgrade their modems. But that changed with the email Cox sent to James and other customers this week.
While the boost from 300Mbps to 500Mbps download speeds is nice, it pales in comparison to a 67 percent cut in upload speeds during a pandemic that has demonstrated the importance of upstream bandwidth to families with people working and taking classes at home. James and his wife both work from home and have two children, including a 3-year-old son now old enough to stream video on an Amazon Fire Kids Edition tablet.
James bought his own modem for $70 in November 2017 to avoid rental fees. According to Cox, James will have to buy a new modem or rent a new one from Cox (with the first 12 months’ rental fees waived) in order to keep the 300Mbps/30Mbps plan.
Cox email leaves key questions unanswered
The Cox email sent to James and other customers said:
We’re making important network upgrades to provide a better Internet experience for all of our customers. To do this, we need to move Ultimate Classic 300 plan customers with older modems to the new Ultimate plan on or after Wednesday, March 3, 2021.
Your bill will not increase as a result of this change to your Internet service plan.
Ultimate has download speeds of up to 500Mbps, 60 percent more than Ultimate Classic 300. Ultimate’s lower upload speeds of up to 10Mbps still support the typical needs of most users like video chatting, gaming, and uploading large files. However, you need to update your current modem to enjoy the full increase in download speeds.
The email went on to say that customers can upgrade to a Cox-certified DOCSIS 3.1 modem or the official Cox Wi-Fi gateway and that customers who want more than 10Mbps uploads should “call to learn more about equipment and our speed plans.” (DOCSIS is the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification used by the cable industry to provide Internet access over coaxial cables.)
The email did not explain why James can’t simply keep using his existing plan on his existing DOCSIS 3.0 modem, an Arris SB6183 that supports up to 686Mbps download speeds and 131Mbps upload speeds. The email also didn’t explain why upgrading to a better modem would lead to a 67 percent cut in upload speeds from 30Mbps to 10Mbps, when commonsense would suggest a modem upgrade should increase both download and upload speeds.
Cox email spurs confusion and anger
It seemed to James that the only option to keep his current upload speeds was to buy the more expensive “Gigablast” package that includes 940Mbps download speeds and 35Mbps upload speeds. The plan’s regular price is $120 a month, with a $100 promotional rate for the first 12 months. It is the only plan Cox advertises with upload speeds above 10Mbps.
“It looks like I’m either losing my 300/30 plan in favor of a 500/10 plan, or I’ll be paying Cox even more money,” James told Ars, before we did more research into the predicament. “In the middle of a pandemic where video conferences are king, Cox is trying to force folks working from home into their top tier to make a quick buck. My area in Irvine doesn’t have any alternative broadband options, so I’m stuck until 5G to the home makes an appearance or Starlink miraculously works in semi-dense urban environments.”
Other customers who received the same email complained in a Reddit thread yesterday. “Just got that same email. Work will be pissed when my productivity slows to a crawl cause uploads take 3 times as long,” one person wrote.
“Cox is fucking garbage,” another person wrote. “I used to have AT&T fiber 1000/1000 until I moved. Same price now I have 500/10. What bullshit.”