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Archive for Thursday, July 26, 2007

Sunflower offers free digital boxes

July 26, 2007

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Three questions with ... Patrick Knorr, general manager of Sunflower Broadband

Patrick Knorr, general manager of Sunflower Broadband, discusses the upcoming changes for cable boxes. Enlarge video

Sunflower Broadband offering free cable boxes

Technological changes, federal regulations and an approaching deadline are leading to a free offer for customers of Sunflower Broadband. Enlarge video

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.

Comments

Bill Chapman 7 years, 5 months ago

Hey 4th grade:

Sunflower broadband and the J-W ARE the same company! It's called The World Company. They also own (and publish) most of the smaller weekly town papers in Douglas county, possibly own KTKA (not sure about that), publish the USA Today(in this region), and a large number of other publications. They also have (at the least) a partial ownership of the Bowersock dam power generation plant.

average 7 years, 5 months ago

Of course they want the handful of remaining analog cable subscribers (some of whom just have basic 32 channel, $22 a month plans) to get a digital box. Then they get moved to the new basic $48 a month digital plan which is the cheapest thing Sunflower will offer you now. Totally worth the cost of providing a set top box for them.

$48 a frickin month? $650 a year after a few taxes? For as much TV as I watch, I might as well rent movies.

b_asinbeer 7 years, 5 months ago

Sunflower's computers were down yesterday when I called so they couldn't help with a question I had about services. They promised to call me back after 5, and they didn't.

Thanks Sunflower...a real class act.

Also, which genius at Sunflower decided to charge extra for increased bandwidth usage? I don't know much about surrounding internet companies, but Cablevision in New Jersey has UNLIMITED internet usage for LOWER monthly payments (yes, you get the same speed).

Dixie Jones 7 years, 5 months ago

Free...ever heard the term "nothings free" well if they are giving away free boxes, then that means the analog users are going to need to step up and spend more $ a month, and i BET that your bill goes up as well....shame..they want you to think they are caring giving blah blah blah but they are gonna get ya in the long run.... can you use another company or is it like my hometown where we only have one company????

tylers 7 years, 5 months ago

From the article: "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."

What Knorr is really saying is that Sunflower isn't ready to provide CableCARD technology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CableCARD). It would probably have been useful for the LJW to contact a consumer advocacy group so that they might explain why the Congress first mandated the CableCARD technology in 1996.

That said, CableCARDs do indeed make a difference to this customer. Say for instance that I choose not rent Sunflower's (rather weird) Moxi DVR system and instead use my own TiVo Series 3 DVR. Without a CableCARD the only channels that my TiVo has access to are the extended basic unencrypted channels despite the fact that I'm paying for more channels. Cable companies don't want to play nice with independently owned consumer technology and instead prefer to rent you the devices required to access the content you've already payed for.

Linda Endicott 7 years, 5 months ago

Would you like to blame Congress and the FCC for this? Because they're the ones who decided that the move to digital had to be total and complete by 2009...

I suspect this is because a lot of people in Congress invested in the technology...so they make the American people correspond. Because there's absolutely no reason a cable company can't provide both analog and digital services...they're already doing that now.

Allegiance Cable in Ottawa has been providing free boxes to people since June 1. This so far is only for people who receive pay channels, because if they don't have the box, they won't be able to access their pay channels. People who don't have pay channels don't need the boxes...yet. At some point everyone will have to have one, or they won't be able to get cable at all...but I don't know what the conversion date is.

Because most people have analog TVs, and when the cable companies have to go all digital, you won't be able to receive it without a box.

Allegiance is offering these boxes free until Jan. 1. After that, there will be a monthly rental fee for everybody.

I don't know...I kept being assured by people that the price of digital TVs would start coming down, and be affordable before the change was required. But here we are, only about a year and a half away, and the price of the damn things is still outrageous. $400 for a tiny 13" color TV...if you get one with a screen size big enough to actually see, the price goes up dramatically.

Maybe I'll just enlarge my DVD collection and just watch all of my movies and old TV shows that way, and to hell with cable...

bmwjhawk 7 years, 5 months ago

And now they're trying to give people free digital boxes, the jerks.

thomgreen 7 years, 5 months ago

TANSTAAFL! "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch"!

lawrenceisfullofproblems 7 years, 5 months ago

satellite and cable companies don't have to convert to digital, only Over the air channels. Don't let these companies fool you into spending more money on something you don't need.

dirkleisure 7 years, 5 months ago

Wouldn't a free digital box be free forever? That's what free means to me.

Sigmund 7 years, 5 months ago

I'm completely confused. Those with Extended Basic service will get a "free" digital box, but won't they be charged $3.95 (like everyone else) at the end of August? Those who are now paying $3.95 for the boxes will continue to pay $3.95 per month at the end of August? Is the box that was "given" to me mine to do with as I please, or when I discontinue cable service and move to Direct TV will they want it back or try and charge me for it?

The article is also slightly misleading on the reason for the change, far as I know the FCC is NOT mandating that cable providers move from analog to digital. Over-The-Air "broadcasts" have different rules from Over-The-Wire "carriers".

"Federal regulators insist that tens of millions of cable subscribers with analog TV sets will not lose access to local TV stations when broadcasters begin transmitting signals digitally in early 2009. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18336319/

nekansan 7 years, 5 months ago

They must be ready for cable card by the deadline they lost a battle they have been fighting with congress for years. This is likely a effort to distribute their remaining inventory of less expensive soon to be outdated boxes, while at the same time getting users to upgrade to the more expensive digital tier of service. If people wait until after the deadline, Sunflower has to go out and purchase/provide them with cable card based boxes in addition to the cable cards which costs them a ton more $$ than getting people to go ahead and get the less expensive/excess inventory they currently have. Of course the cable companies argue that people don;t want digital service, but IMO it's because consumers don't want expensive annoying cable boxes that don;t integrate with their existing AV systems well. This is the exact drawback that cable card is designed to eliminate.

justthefacts 7 years, 5 months ago

FYI - based upon several past encounters with Sunflower customer service, on many issues, I HIGHLY recommend doing everything you can IN WRITING. Putting my requests/complaints in an email (and keeping track of past responses you get) has helped me (repeatedly) prove points and prevent repeated problems.

frankwiles 7 years, 5 months ago

Actually Sunflower has been supporting CableCards for more than a year...

Adrienne Sanders 7 years, 5 months ago

I see they have Motorola consistently spelled with two Ls on the Sunflower Broadband site. That makes a real good impression. Especially when it's right next to a picture of a Motorola cable box.

zettapixel 7 years, 5 months ago

Why is there such a monopoly on cable and Internet here in Lawrence? Guess there's too much red tape from local government to even think about another company coming in. I guess SWBell offers DSL around here but DSL can't compare to cable. Unfortunate!

Sigmund 7 years, 5 months ago

DSL competes very well in Lawrence!

Everyone I know who switched from Cable to DSL did it for one reason. With Sunflower Broadband you pay a surcharge based upon daily, weekly and monthly usage. Given I use the internet to regularly to telecommute, teleconference, download OS's, patches, and the occasional BBC fare, I can't be bothered to keep track of all that and am unwilling to allow my bill to go up and down.

This surcharge might have made sense at one time and even though The World Company invested in software to keep track of it, Sunflower is one of the few cable providers nationwide who is able to get away with that. Sooner or later they will have to drop that practice (despite what Patrick might tell you or even believe himself), but until then a significant part of the market will stay away. Until then Sunflower Broadband will continue to skim as much cream off of the top while they can.

Come to think about it, I know very few people who have switched from DSL to cable. If ATT ever unbundled their telephone and DSL services, those people who want only a mobile phone (no land line, but copper throughout their home) will also be potential ATT DSL customers.

Very few areas of KC have a choice of cable TV providers, however ATT is rolling out its cable TV over copper phone lines in the KC area and the reviews I have heard are good. I expect they will work out the few kinks and then go nationwide soon. Dish Networks is a solid competitor in providing TV and movies and Sunflowers telephone offering competes with ATT.

All in all Sunflower does pretty good job competing with a couple of the largest corporations in America but it is no where near a monopoly.

kuhusker 7 years, 5 months ago

So do these boxes work with a series 2 TiVo?

kmat 7 years, 5 months ago

Sigmund - people in KC do have choice of providers. My parents had their choice of three companies, and they compete against one another and have great pricing compared to our suck @ss Sunflower.

I was having major problems with my Moxi box a few months back, and after being repeatedly insulted that my husband and I were ignorant about equipment and they were sure that my cable lines were bad (and of course were trying to charge me to have all new cable lines run - the problem was it was a newer house and Sunflower themselves had run all the new lines just two years earlier), I finally got them to come out and test everything. Of course, bad cable box. The problem - it took four boxes before they could find one that didn't crash the system (moxi dvr system). The idiot manager on duty admitted that their equipment is old and doesn't work well and that I'd be lucky to find a moxi dvr box that did work. He then admitted that all their DVR systems suck and will crash (of course, usually while you're trying to record something). I literally sat there in their offices in shock - not believing they would admit that they use old, insuperior equipment. Sunflower only cares about one thing - ripping off the people of Lawrence. I now have a box that only crashes about once a week (compared to 3-4 times a day), but does have crappy sound quality. They told me to be glad the box actually worked. Such great customer service - that's the Sunflower way!

And we can't get competition in here because Sunflower owns the unground fiberoptic lines. They have a monopoly here and they know it. Just one more reason to leave this town.

Don't trust Sunflower and count on getting old, bad equipment.

Dan Alexander 7 years, 5 months ago

I recommend you check out lawrencefreenet.org. DSL is great and all, however, AT&T is a pretty hard company to deal with when all you want to do is talk to a real person. FreeNet's service is under $32 for their most expensive plan, and that's the one where you get a signal booster put on the outside of your house (its the best reception of all the plans). Check the coverage tab to see if you have service available in your neighborhood.

Ragingbear 7 years, 5 months ago

You don't have to have a digital box ,but it will severely limit your channels. I like mine. There is also the programmable TV guide instead of the Ch.20 one. That in itself is worth the $4 a month to me. What you may not know is that like cable modems, you do not need a cable box directly from Sunflower. You can get one at the store. DVRs, TiVo, and all that other stuff will have at least basic compatibility with the Sunflower services. You can contact the IT department to find out the full system specs you need to have in order to get yours to work.

However, it should be pointed out that they also charge a service fee for the DVR services. So while the DVR itself is only $10, you will have to pay another $10 a month to use the service.

Personally, I have found Sunflower to be better than most other ISP's and Cable companies I have encountered in my time. Their packages are also cheaper. I don't trust AT&T at all. They keep selling my name to advertising agencies, they have not only volunteered information to the NSA, but given them info they didn't even ask for about the private usage of their customers. They are a big corporation employing people in India for their call centers, and are far too aggressive in their selling approaches. I can't even call them up and pay my bill without them trying to wheel and deal me like a used car salesman.

Sigmund 7 years, 5 months ago

Kmat- I thought I was clear, I've added emphasis just for you! "Very few areas of KC have a choice of cable TV providers, however ATT is rolling out its cable TV over copper phone lines in the KC area and the reviews I have heard are good."

Some of the newer areas do, like your 'rents. However, most do not. Those that do find that they get better deals on cable, go figure!

doc1 7 years, 5 months ago

Just do like the happy customers do and drop Sunflower. Get Direct TV with the High Def TIVO. The Tivo Service is alot better than Moxy and the picture is already digital and clear. Several of my family and friends have made the switch and are as happy as I am since I switched. You will get tons more channels for less a month.

TheStig 7 years, 5 months ago

If you received this "free" digital box it doesn't mean you are not obligated. At the end of your service Sunflower will ask you to return it or pay $100. If I understand correctly, these boxes are older models that Sunflower will not be able to deploy in the near future. In an effort to get them out of inventory Sunflower has decided to give them away unsolicited to their customers. Fine and dandy, except you are now obligated to pay them $100 if they get lost or stolen!

Sweet deal huh? You get to keep them at your house and if you lose it you owe them $100!!!

Honestly, this comes very close to violating Federal Trade Commission rules and regulations. The FTC offers some advice for those that recieve unsolicited merchandise:

Here are some questions and answers about dealing with unordered merchandise. Q. Am I obligated to return or pay for merchandise I never ordered? A. No. If you receive merchandise that you didn't order, you have a legal right to keep it as a free gift.

Q. Must I notify the seller if I keep unordered merchandise without paying for it? A. You have no legal obligation to notify the seller. However, it is a good idea to write a letter to the company stating that you didn't order the item and, therefore, you have a legal right to keep it for free. This may discourage the seller from sending you bills or dunning notices, or it may help clear up an honest error. Send your letter by certified mail. Keep the return receipt and a copy of the letter for your records. You may need it later. http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/products/unorderd.shtm

Myself, I am keeping Patrick's gift!

Special note to Mark Fagan. Perhaps you can do a fuller article on this, or is shilling for The World Company standard Journalistic practice for you and the LJW?

Sigmund 7 years, 5 months ago

Sunflower does not have a "natural monopoly." Dial up, DSL, microwave, and FreeNet all compete in that space. KU offers every students who live on campus Broadband. They may have the only cable based broadband in town, but that does not make a monopoly, natural or not.

I would never have Sunflower wire my home (retrofit or new construction). The work I have seen was merely drilling a hole through the wall after tacking cable to the outside of the house. Even at that you were forced to sign a waiver saying if they caused damage to plumbing, electric, or phones, they were not liable.

Sigmund 7 years, 5 months ago

I forgot to mention that in addition to the daily, weekly, monthly broadband limits, Sunflower limits the number of computers each cable modem customer is allowed to connect. Unless you buy their "Gold Package" at $49.95 per month you are restricted to one, and only one, computer. Even the "Gold Package" limits to four. Sure you can do NAT'ing via a router, but still you are in violation of their agreement. http://www.sunflowerbroadband.com/internet/

I guess Gold and Silver is what they think they are lining their pockets with. Still, more and more people are choosing DSL. Once ATT unbundles their telephone and DSL offerings, Sunflower will lose even more customers. These draconian and ill conceived restrictions are the number one reason why ATT has such a strong presence here.

Sigmund 7 years, 5 months ago

Sorry, most economist would disagree. An industry is said to be a natural monopoly if one firm can produce a desired output at a lower social cost than two or more firms-that is, there are economies of scale in social costs. Unlike in the ordinary understanding of a monopoly, a natural monopoly situation does NOT mean that only one firm is providing a particular kind of good or service. Rather it is the ASSERTION about an industry, that multiple firms providing a good or service is less efficient (more costly to a nation or economy) than would be the case if a single firm provided a good or service.

Perhaps you mean a "technical monopoly" where only one firm is able to survive in the long run. It is said that this is the result of high fixed costs of entering an industry which causes long run average costs to decline as output expands. But this doesn't apply to Sunflower, DSL offers broadband internet access and competes quite well, unless you so narrowly define braodband internet access only as DOCSIS cable modems, which nobody does.

Such a narrow definition would mean every business that distinguishes its product from their competitors would have a technical monopoly, even though most consumers see them as alternatives. McDonalds would have a technical monopoly on "Big Macs" and Burger King a technical monopoly on "Whoopers" even though most consumers see them as alternatives for fast food hamburgers.

Natural monopolies tend to be utilities granted and regulated by governments because of the social costs of competition. It does not make sense to run two set of water lines to consumers because it is a waste of resources. Sewer and water services are natural monopolies, not broadband internet access.

Sigmund 7 years, 5 months ago

Speaking of government imposed monopolies, didn't the City of Lawrence grant The World Company an "exclusive franchise" on Cable TV service in Lawrence long before DOCSIS cable modems were ever dreamt of? This incentive allowed them to make the massive investment without fear of competition. Once that investment was in place it became an effective barrier to entry by competition from other cable TV providers, even if that exclusive franchise no longer exists.

Yet now the same cable that for years carried "exclusive" TV signals now also carries telephone and internet traffic. Patrick recently argued in front of Congress that unless they were given relief, that many small cable companies will simply close up shop and close. He completely ignored the fact that the same cable TV capital investment also provides revenues from Internet and Telephones. http://energycommerce.house.gov/reparchives/108/Hearings/05262005hearing1533/Knorr2566.htm

If The World Company can't capitalize the new investment to meet FCC rules and regulations then they could simply sell to Time Warner, Comcast, Everest, or the others who are more efficient.

lbsteffen 7 years, 5 months ago

Personally, I love my service. I understand why they charge for extra bandwidth, and against what I read from the majority of you, I have read the new FCC regulations. Sunflower must comply. I think its great that we get FREE digital boxes, after all, its saving me about 50.00 a year, and I dont have to get a digital ready TV. I dont want a cable card. Where the hell would I stick it? LOL! I dont have nor want a tivo. I rent a dvr box and it does just fine with me.

You all want to complain about Sunflower, but I have had Dish, TimeWarner, and direct TV. By all means, Sunflower is cheaper to me, for what I want, plus they are local- I dont have to buy equipment, and my service is reliable. But, hey, just my opinion.

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