Cox Breaks Ice, Offers One-Bill Option

Cox Communications Inc. customers in San Diego, Orange County, Calif., Omaha and New England will soon have more choice in billing options.

In those systems, the MSO will experiment with allowing subscribers to customize the bills they receive. They can consolidate their telephony, high-speed data and video transactions on one bill, or they can choose to place two services on one bill, and a third on a separate mailing.

Traditionalists can stick with separate bills for each product.

The single bill will be promoted first to new bundled-services customers, then marketed to current subscribers, executives said. Local managers will determine when to stage out the offer to current customers.

Consumers who take the one-bill option may choose whether they want the bill to arrive on the first or 15th of the month.

Cox is the first major MSO to roll out single billing on a large-scale basis. That's because the company employs just one billing platform, from vendor Convergys Corp., and has the broadest cable-telephony deployment, said vice president of marketing Joe Rooney.

The standard billing format Convergys created for all Cox products eases the effort to offer choice.

Surveys conducted by several outside companies have shown that consumers rank simplified billing as a factor in taking bundled telecommunications services. Cox's own research found that 70 percent of consumers polled wanted a bundled bill.

Nearly as many subscribers — 69 percent — want discounted prices, Rooney said.

To ensure that single billing can capture all the applicable charges, Cox tested the concept in about 200 employee homes beginning last December.

Now the company is ready to deploy single bills to its bundled-services customer base, which numbered 750,000 households by the end of the first quarter — including 250,000 telephony customers. Cox intends to offer the single billing option in all seven telephony markets by the end of this year.

Cox will use advertising to promote single billing in those markets, but it won't be the lead message.

Executives called single billing only "a little more challenging" than conventional offerings. The payments will go to the same lockbox.

About the only added cost could come in time spent by customer service representatives who must deal with subscribers calling to combine their multiple bills into a single bill, said Randy O'Neal, director of bundling and packaging.

A single bill has the potential to be quite high each month, but executives said they don't intend to change the way they assess customers' ability to pay. Presently, Cox checks its customers' credit as they sign up for products. As subscribers convert to the single bill, the company will allow the consumer to decide whether they can afford that one payment each month.

Cox has the ability to cap the number of pay-per-view movies bought each month, and can block pricey 900-number calls. But executives were not sure if transaction tracking included the ability to warn an individual that their bill would be excessive in the middle of a payment cycle.