Cox’s bad customer service stymies users who don’t want upload speeds cut

By | February 24, 2021
Network cables plugged into a router.

Cox has been making it extremely difficult or impossible for some customers to stick with their current Internet speeds despite promising that it won’t force users onto plans with slower uploads.

As we wrote two weeks ago, Cox informed customers with 300Mbps download and 30Mbps upload speeds that they will be switched to a plan with 500Mbps downloads and 10Mbps uploads on March 3. A Cox spokesperson told Ars at the time that customers can stay on the plan with 30Mbps uploads as long as they upgrade to a DOCSIS 3.1 modem. But Cox’s email to its customers did not mention this option, and customers who called Cox customer service have since been told in no uncertain terms that they cannot stay on their current plans.

Several Cox users from California emailed Ars about the problem after reading our article, all with similar experiences.

“I just got off the phone with a Cox tech rep and she said that my current Ultimate Classic plan (300/30) is going away regardless of whether I upgrade to a DOCSIS 3.1 modem or not,” a customer whose first name is Dam and lives in Aliso Viejo, California, told Ars on Thursday last week. “When the time comes in March, my new plan will be the new Ultimate 500/10. I told her about your article and she said that is not what she’s seeing in her system or hearing from her higher-ups.”

We contacted Cox about the problem on Friday last week, and a Cox spokesperson admitted that the company failed to ensure that sales reps know customers are allowed to stay on the 300/30Mbps plan.

“There clearly are some gaps that we need to address to avoid this confusion,” Cox told Ars on Monday. “We’re in the process of retraining our frontline-facing teams to make sure they are consistently communicating the options available to impacted customers, including staying on their existing plan of 300/30 so long as they upgrade their modem.”

As before, customers will be automatically switched from the 300/30Mbps plan to the 500/10Mbps tier unless they contact customer service and insist on keeping their plan. The change to download and upload speeds will happen regardless of whether customers have an upgraded modem, but customers who stick with an older modem may not get the full 500Mbps download speeds. Cox, which has about 5.3 million Internet customers in 19 states, says the changes are related to a network upgrade.

Cox’s customer-service screwup

The evidence (including Cox’s email to customers and statements from Cox sales reps to customers) makes it seem as if Cox didn’t intend to let customers keep their 30Mbps upload speeds until the company faced criticism and media exposure two weeks ago. That would explain why customer-service reps have told customers they must give up the 300/30Mbps plan and why Cox is now scrambling to tell employees about the option.

However, a Cox spokesperson told Ars that the company “always” intended to let customers keep the 30Mbps upload speeds. If that is true, then the company totally screwed up its messaging to customers and the change to its customer-service systems.

Cox described the fix now being implemented as a “retraining” in a statement to Ars yesterday:

Our frontline care agents were originally trained late January ahead of the first batch of customer communications in early February. Based on the feedback from a few customers, including the ones you shared, we are revisiting training to ensure ALL customers are getting consistent and correct information. To that end, we are in the process of conducting refresher training that will run through the end of this week for all our frontline employees.

As we retrain our employees, we are making sure they are communicating the options available to impacted customers, including staying on their existing Ultimate Classic plan (300/30) so long as they upgrade their modem. Staying on this plan was always an available option, albeit not one that was communicated as clearly as it could have been. We want to be sure customers clearly understand their options if they need more upload speed.

The 500/10Mbps plan is a direct replacement for the 300/30Mbps plan in terms of price and its place within Cox’s speed tiers. It costs $80 a month for the first year and $100 after the promo period expires. With the 300/30Mbps plan being discontinued, the only option with upload speeds higher than 10Mbps is the “Gigablast” plan with 940Mbps download speeds and 35Mbps upload speeds. That plan generally costs $100 during the promo period and $120 afterward, but some customers have been offered a $92.50 promotional rate. Cox charges $12 a month for a combined modem and router, but customers can use their own compatible equipment to avoid the rental fee.

Cox’s email notifying users of the upcoming download and upload speed changes said that customers who want upload speeds above 10Mbps can “call to learn more about equipment and our speed plans,” but it did not mention the option of staying on the same 300/30Mbps plan. Customers who received this email and those who contact Cox before all of the customer-service problems are solved may still mistakenly believe that keeping their plan isn’t an option. They would thus have their upload speeds cut to 10Mbps automatically when the change takes effect next week.

We asked Cox if it is contacting all of these customers again to make clear they can avoid the upload-speed cut, and we will update this article if we get an answer. Update at 5pm ET: Cox told us that “we will be communicating to those customers to further clarify their options, including the option to stay on their 300/30 tier.”

Cox has apparently struggled to provide advertised upload speeds during the pandemic. In June 2020, we wrote about how Cox warned some customers about “excessive” upload usage and how the company lowered upload speeds on the Gigablast plan from 35Mbps to 10Mbps in some entire neighborhoods where its network was having trouble.