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Cox Bundles Mexico Calls, TeleLatina

Cox Communications Inc. is trying a different strategy to lure Hispanic customers in Arizona, offering potential subscribers free minutes of long-distance telephone calls to Mexico as a reward for buying a bundle of services.

Normally, it costs as much as 39 center per minute to call Mexico. The cost is dependent on the time of day called and the long-distance provider used.

Cox is promoting two different packages. The first includes Cox digital telephone service with at least one advanced feature, such as call waiting or caller ID; and a 250-channel suite of digital-cable services including TeleLatina, a 12-channel Spanish language package that offers Cine Latino, CNN en Español and Discovery en Español. Subscribers to this package will pay $63.45 per month (before taxes). This pack includes 60 free minutes per month in calls to Mexico.

Cox officials said this package costs 22% less than if the services are purchased separately.

A second plan earns a subscriber two hours per month of international calls. The offerings are similar to the previous package, except consumers must buy more advanced phone features such as three-way calling or speed dial. That package costs as little as $67.65 before taxes.

Additional time will be billed at 15 cents per minute.

Statistics dictated the change in methodology, noted Tony Maldonado, vice president of marketing for Cox's Arizona system. In some markets, 50% or fewer of all Hispanic homes have cable, but 95% have telephone service.

In those households, the largest amount of long-distance spending comes from calls to Mexico. So, instead of relying on video products the "cable-never" households would continue to resist, Cox decided to lead its marketing efforts with telephony.

"Long-distance is particularly important. Even first-, second-generation Mexican Americans continue to keep in touch," Maldonado added.

Cox launched the offer in September and is in the midst of a six-week course of controlled direct-mail testing, he said.

"We want to see how customers respond when we lead with this message, compared with video," Maldonado said.