A wrinkle in regulations governing the switch of TV signals to all-digital transmissions is leading to a free offer for customers of Sunflower Broadband.
Through Aug. 31, the Lawrence-based provider of cable television and other communications services is offering customers free cable set-top boxes equipped to accommodate digital TV signals.
Patrick Knorr, Sunflower's general manager, figures that as many as 8,000 of Sunflower's 34,000 customers don't have equipment designed to enable the most advanced of Sunflower's services, including interactive program guides, parental controls and other content.
And so through the end of August, the company will provide those customers with a digital box - a value of $3.95 a month - free of charge.
All they have to do is ask.
"Basically, everybody knows that technology is changing, and that everything is transitioning towards digital," said Knorr, who also serves as chairman for the American Cable Association, which represents about 1,000 cable providers nationwide. "For the customer, we're trying to make this as simple as possible."
Customers who already have a digital cable box - including high-definition boxes and digital video recorders - through Sunflower don't need to do anything unless they want to get additional boxes, Knorr said. Customers can know for sure if they already have digital service by checking to see if they can access Sunflower on Demand, seen on channel 1.
Sunflower's Aug. 31 deadline comes after the Federal Communications Commission ruled against the company's request to get a delay in implementing rules governing what kinds of digital boxes can be deployed.
The FCC has ordered Sunflower to start providing boxes that include portable security features as of Sept. 1.
Such boxes cost up to three times as much as the boxes currently being offered by Sunflower, Knorr said, while not offering any boost in picture quality or other services that would make a difference for customers.
Customers who wait until after Sept. 1 to get a new box could face additional costs, Knorr said. While prices haven't been set, the boxes with portable security cards could cost customers $9.95 a month.
It's a cost, he said, that wouldn't have to be borne for customers who act now.
"There's nothing better than free," he said.
Sunflower is owner by The World Company, which also owns the Journal-World. Sunflower provides cable television and other communications services in Lawrence and other area communities.