Cox Mini Boxes Cause Concern for JCC Residents, Supes

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Resident Jessica Hughes speaks to Cox Communications representative Barrett Stork as others wait to share their concerns about the required mini boxes for Cox cable customers. (Kirsten Petersen/ WYDaily)
Resident Jessica Hughes speaks to Cox Communications representative Barrett Stork as others wait to share their concerns about the required mini boxes for Cox cable customers. (Kirsten Petersen/ WYDaily)

A small box is proving to be a big problem for James City County residents and officials.

Six residents voiced their concerns about the Cox Communications mini box, which the broadband communications company is now requiring for every television in a customer’s home, during last night’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

The mini box allows viewers to receive channels using a digital signal and includes access to high-definition channels, a television programming guide and music channels. Each mini box installed will cost customers $2.99 per month.

Barrett Stork, director of Government and Regulatory Affairs for Cox Communications, said introducing the boxes is an effort to catch up with an industry-wide trend of moving away from analog service and toward digital service.

The move will also free up bandwidth and allow Cox to offer faster download speeds and more HD channels in the future, Stork said.

“We are pretty much the last cable provider to shift to an all-digital network,” Stork said. “This shift will allow us to do a number of great things for our customers.”

However, supervisors argued residents want good customer service and reasonable prices for cable, not necessarily HD channels.

Supervisor Kevin Onizuk (Jamestown) said he watches one-tenth of the channels available to him through Cox and suspects his constituents do the same. He asked Stork why Cox could not keep things simple.

“It sounds like you’re giving me the opportunity to pay more money to Cox. That’s frustrating,” Onizuk said. “These are the frustrations our citizens have, and when you come and say we have to spend an extra three bucks for every TV because everybody wants more HD channels, no they don’t. They want good customer service, they want good basic TV and those are really the answers we’re looking for here.”

Supervisor Ruth Larson (Berkeley) agreed, asserting “people just want a reasonable price for their cable.”

She suggested Cox produce an infomercial explaining how to set up the mini boxes, an idea she urged after Stork said Cox representatives could professionally install all boxes for about $40, a figure that solicited reactions from supervisors and residents alike.

“Forty dollars is just not something [customers] have or are willing to pay,” Larson said.

Some residents aired their grievances about the mini boxes while others spoke on behalf of frustrated family members or clients.

Jessica Hughes, owner of By Your Side Technology, said her customers have come to her with complaints about the mini box remote and concerns about whether they can get the maximum amount of customer service they qualify for as Medicaid beneficiaries.

“We do have pockets of our community that can’t afford the additional fee,” Hughes said. “We would like transparent, straight-forward, honest information when people call from Williamsburg and the James City County area because our choices are limited here.”

Resident Chris Henderson said he has 10 TVs in his home and has lost channels he had before the switch to mini boxes.

“I am completely dissatisfied with the roll out and what they’re doing is obviously a money grab and they should provide the boxes for free,” Henderson said.

Larson said the problem is bigger than the boxes and exposes a larger “customer service and customer appreciation issue.”

“If some of those things were solved, it wouldn’t be quite as painful when it comes down to a box,” Larson said.

Stork said customer service is a “very big issue” for Cox, and customer service representatives are coached when mistakes are made so they are not repeated.

He said customers must have mini boxes installed or an alternative like a cableCARD set up by mid-May when all channels will have moved to digital.