Connecting Communities by Closing the Digital Divide

For over a decade, Cox Communications has been improving internet access for underserved communities nationwide, closing the digital divide through affordable connectivity. Built In connected with Cox team members to learn more.

Written by Brigid Hogan
Published on Oct. 27, 2023
Connecting Communities by Closing the Digital Divide
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In the last three years, Cox Communications’ efforts to ensure everyone has access to fast, reliable internet have impacted over 3.6 million Americans.

“Connectivity can have a positive impact to help households thrive in a competitive world,” said Alex Slinin, senior director of product management and marketing for digital equity and affordability.

The story told by the numbers shows a dramatic positive change for many of the households Cox has helped to access digital connectivity.

According to research from Cox, customers that utilize Cox programs like ConnectAssist, Connect2Compete and the federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program report major changes to the possibilities opened up for their households. Of those surveyed, 76 percent reported finding a job or moving into a better job because of their access to the internet, 71 percent were able to begin working remotely and 90 percent said that internet connectivity had a positive impact on their children’s education.

76% reported finding a job because of their access to the internet, 71% were able to begin working remotely and 90% said that internet connectivity had a positive impact on their children’s education.”

 

Even with the massive progress made over the last three years, Cox’ work to support affordable connectivity long predates when remote work and learning became part of everyday life. This mission helps Francesca Piscopio, senior manager of consumer product marketing innovation, keep the bigger picture of digital access in mind throughout the scope of her work.

“Beyond families who need internet access for homework or working from home, there is a large population of people who don’t fully understand how getting connected to the internet can help them day-to-day,” Piscopio said. “We want to make sure the story we are telling helps explain how connecting to telehealth, community, family and entertainment can support people like seniors on a fixed income. We want to offer opportunities for people to not have to choose between mobile and home internet — we are able to offer products that help customers stay connected both in and out of the house.”

 

PARTNERING WITH A SUPER BOWL CHAMP TO SUPPORT STUDENTS

When Malcolm Mitchell arrived at the University of Georgia in 2011, his athletic abilities had prepared him for a stellar career as a wide receiver, but his literacy level hadn’t kept pace. As a college freshman, Mitchell was reading at a middle school level and knew he needed to catch up.

After being sidelined with an ACL injury just minutes into his 2013 college season, suddenly Mitchell had free hours to fill. Mitchell used those hours to read, eventually diving into four books a week and ending up in a book club after meeting a member in a local Barnes and Noble. “[Football] came natural. That’s a gift. I had to work to read,” he told CBS News shortly after winning the 2017 Super Bowl with the New England Patriots.

Today, Mitchell has partnered with Cox as a digital equity advocate to help bridge the literacy gap for youth from underprivileged backgrounds similar to his own — including a focus on digital literacy for students whose families can benefit from Cox’s affordable programs.

 

Increasing Access and Building Equity

As Piscopio’s team works to paint the full picture of how internet connectivity can benefit individuals and communities, a focus on equity and clarity remains at the forefront of her efforts.

“We want to message people loud and proud that there are options besides what they have historically heard from us,” she said. “Even beyond the technical challenges, we want to remove hurdles that people encounter even before they get connected. With programs like ConnectAssist, we removed late fees, contracts and data overage fees — all the things that end up being a reason someone might lose their services. We eliminated the need for a credit check and now allow people to sign up even if they have a balance with us from a previous account.”

We want to remove hurdles that people encounter even before they get connected.”

 

On the product side, Slinin shares Piscopio’s customer experience lens as he looks at the work ahead for the Cox team.

“It’s an ongoing effort, not a one-and-done thing,” he said. “Right now, we have teams in all of our markets working with community partners at the local level. Our partners are provider-agnostic, but we want to make sure we are offering the tools that they need to support customers. This is a grassroots, one customer-at-a-time approach, and it changes the lens of who might be interacting with the product. If it’s a senior, the customer might not be registering but rather working with someone helping them, which changes how that experience is going to work.”

Whether working alongside government officials and agencies to increase connectivity for a whole community, or supporting local organizations or even helping individuals get online, the Cox team’s focus remains consistent.

“We want to make sure that folks can access good-quality, high-speed internet,” Slinin said. 

Like any marketer, Piscopio’s biggest challenge is cutting through the messaging clutter, but a very specific challenge arises next.

“If you don’t have the internet, how are you going to get online to apply for affordable internet?” she asks. “That means working on local activation efforts, partnering with field teams in the markets and doing community outreach. We have to consider those who don’t know how to begin because they don’t know how to use the internet.”

But Slinin and Piscopio aren’t doing the work of closing the digital divide alone. In order to solve these challenges, they rely on each other and the larger digital equity team to find creative solutions and empower customers to access the programs and services they need.

 

Collaborating at Cox Communications

“It’s so cliche, but the whole idea of ‘it takes a village’ is really apt for our whole segment because it really does take all of us to make a difference here,” Piscopio said.

“Technically, we’re on different teams,” Slinin added. “But that’s not how we look at it on a day-to-day basis. The nature of our work — and of working at Cox — is that we are aligned within a collaborative culture, and the clear goal our segment shares drives our work toward equity.”

The nature of our work — and of working at Cox — is that we are aligned within a collaborative culture, and the clear goal our segment shares drives our work toward equity.” 

 

For Piscopio, simplifying enrollment has been a key part of that mission. She notes that Slinin has been a key partner in that effort.

“Since Alex joined the team, we’ve been able to launch an SMS tool to help customers enroll more easily, and when I worked with our sales and care partners to identify gaps in our process, Alex made it happen behind the scenes,” she said.

That collaboration helps Piscopio to see the scale of how her work serves the larger goal. 

“It’s not just me or Alex, but a much larger shared focus on reaching our neighbors and helping them understand how Cox can support them,” she said. “I’m just one piece of the whole and get to interact with lots of different people to see how we’re helping the business and the communities that we serve, and I think that helps keep Cox employees motivated to learn in this space.”

For Slinin, the value of building more equitable communities was instilled at a young age, as he watched his mother serve as a social worker supporting foster care children and families.

“My mom helped people in many of the same circumstances we’re working with in this capacity,” he said. “When this role opened up, I was driven to apply because I know we can help people in real ways. That goal offers a lot of focus in our work.”

As Cox looks ahead, it is not planning to slow down the drive toward increased access. As Piscopio said, quoting a line for a recent Cox article about its #AWorldWithinReach campaign, “Cox is committed to closing the digital divide and opening the door to endless opportunities for households of all incomes and economic statuses.”

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images provided by Cox Enterprises.

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