Cox and the AARP Find Common Causes

Cox Communications Inc.’s Oklahoma City system is touting a “two-fer”: a programming partnership that’s grown into a political bond with the state’s largest consumer group, the local chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons.

The alliance grew out of a strategy session. Local AARP executives wanted to meet the system’s new vice president of government relations and public affairs, Mark Trierweiler, to talk about education initiatives.

Cox wanted AARP’s support in opposing SBC Communications Inc.-backed bills in the state Legislature that it views as anti-competitive.

At the time, Cox was opposing a deregulation bill that, the MSO argued, would allow incumbent telco SBC to lower rates in areas where it competes with Cox Digital Telephone service. In areas where SBC retains its monopoly, it proposed to raise rates by $2 per line every year, according to Trierweiler.

“I was particularly impressed with how well AARP understands our issues. They see we’re very pro-consumer and pro-competition, compared with the [regional Bell operating companies],” Trierweiler said.

While politics was on the Cox executive’s mind, distributing consumer information was the goal for AARP, said Sean Voskuhl, assistant state director for the Oklahoma chapter.

AARP has produced informational shows, including shows on local PBS and ABC affiliates. But Voskuhl said he thought it was a great idea when Trierweiler noted that Cox could produce an AARP-labeled informational show for its local origination channel. The result: The AARP Fraud Fighters, hosted by Jennifer Leach and Andres Castillo from AARP’s national Consumer Protection Group and produced by Cox’s Randi Carson. Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson introduced the show.

“It’s a great, quality program,” Voskuhl said. “The real winners here are the viewers.”

Seniors are shown how predators use e-mail messages to trick consumers into volunteering vital information that can be used to steal money, among other scams. Fraud aimed at seniors is a key concern for AARP Oklahoma’s 400,000 members.

The organization has received requests for tapes from individuals and other AARP chapters. And there’s been an uptick in requests to AARP’s speaker bureau since the program debuted.

The program will have a life beyond Oklahoma: It was designed so other Cox systems could replace Edmonson’s introduction with one from a local official. Systems across the U.S. have requested copies, including those in Las Vegas, Cleveland and Omaha, Neb.

The two organizations share a goal: Both want to reach seniors, Voskuhl said. “Their sole reason for existing is to protect seniors,” said Trierwiler. “It’s an agenda we should absolutely be working together on.”