WOW to increase many cable bills by more than 5 a month; Eudora bests Lawrence in young families ranking

Wow may not be the first word that pops to mind when you get your cable television bills in 2015. WOW — also known as Wide Open West — has announced rate increases that will add $15 to $20 per month to bills of many cable, Internet and telephone subscribers in the area.

Here’s a summary of the rate and fee increases that WOW plans to implement on Jan. 1:

• The company will begin charging a $2 per month “sports surcharge fee.” The fee is designed to help offset some of the money the cable company must pay stations like ESPN and Fox Sports to broadcast their popular channels. Everybody who has cable television service with WOW will pay that fee.

• A $1 per month “local origination programming fee” also will be added to bills.That fee will recover a portion of the costs to produce “community-based” local content. That fee will help offset a portion of the production costs for the local news, weather and sports programming on Channel 6. All cable customers will pay that fee.

• A $5 per month “broadcast TV fee” will be added to bills. That money will help pay the fees WOW pays to local televisions stations such as FOX, ABC, NBC and CBS affiliates in Kansas City. Even though those stations are available for free to anyone who has television antennae, federal law requires cable companies to pay for the right to include those stations on their cable systems. Everyone who has cable service will pay that fee.

In case your abacus is broken, that’s $8 a month in new fees for all WOW cable subscribers. Some of you may be thinking that you are sure glad you got a “rate guarantee” from WOW that will forestall those increases. Think again on that point. Debra Schmidt, system manager for WOW’s Lawrence operations, confirmed that these new charges are fees, not rates. That means, she said, people with rate guarantees will see those increases on their bills beginning in January.

There are a couple of other fees that people will pay, depending on what type of service they have. They include:

• A $1.61 per month carrier service fee. That fee helps pay administrative costs related to phone service. Only customers with WOW phone service will pay that fee.

• A $1 per month increase in the cable modem lease fee. Internet subscribers have the option of using their own cable modem or leasing one from WOW. Only Internet subscribers who lease a modem will pay this fee.

• The FCC Network Access Charge will increase $1.30 per month. Only telephone subscribers will pay this fee.

Thus far, everything we have listed has been fee increases. But rates also are going up. This is where it will come in handy to know whether you have a rate guarantee from WOW. As an incentive to sign up, some customers were promised their rates would not increase for a certain number of months. Schmidt said WOW will honor those rate guarantees. But for those of us without a guarantee, we’ll see the following rate increases in January:

• For customers with basic broadcast cable, rates will increase $6 per month.

• For customers with the Apartment Pak/Family Pak cable, rates will increase $7 per month.

• For customers with the Bronze cable, Internet and phone bundle package, rates will increase $8 per month.

• For customers with the Preferred/Silver/Gold bundle package, rates will increase $10 per month.

• For customers who only subscribe to Internet services, rates will increase by $2 per month.

I know, this is a lot like programming your VCR — confusing. The best way for you to know how much your monthly bill is set to increase is to call WOW customer service at 785-841-2100. But I’ll do my best here to present a couple of scenarios.

My understanding is most WOW customers have some sort of bundled plan. If you have the bronze plan, which includes television, phone and Internet service, it looks like you will be paying $8 more per month in rates and $10.91 more per month in fees. That’s an increase of $18.91 per month or just over $225 a year.

If you have a gold or silver plan, it looks like your increase would be $20.91 per month.

“We certainly empathize with our customers,” Schmidt said. “We hate to increase rates.”

Schmidt said this is one of the larger rate increases in recent memory. She said most of the increase is being driven by the tremendous increases in programming fees being charged by sports networks and other cable and broadcast channels. She said sports programming fees last year increased at a rate seven times greater than inflation.

“Our single biggest cost is the one we have the least control over: programming costs,” Schmidt said. “I know that people are sick of hearing that, but it is true.”

She said the cable industry continues to push for some national reforms that would rein in programming costs.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Eudora has reason to pound its chest a little bit today. A new study has found that Eudora is the sixth best city in Kansas for young families. The financial Web site NerdWallet has released its annual ranking, and found that Eudora’s combination of schools, housing prices and income growth make it an attractive place to raise a young family. (Hopefully having cheap access to the Disney Channel isn’t part of the calculations. WOW is the dominant cable provider in Eudora, as well.)

Regardless, as a resident of Eudora, I can tell you the city does well when it comes to young families, if doing well means a pack of 11-year-old boys devouring your food pantry after school and a herd of 8-year-old girls regularly busting windows with their daily shrill sessions.

Here’s a look at the top 10:

1. Andover

2. Spring Hill

3. Mulvane

4. Hays

5. Gardner

6. Eudora

7. Abilene

8. Arkansas City

9. De Soto

10. Overland Park

This is one list that Lawrence did not score well on. Lawrence ranked No. 36 out of the 48 cities included in the study. You might be asking how the six miles between Eudora and Lawrence can equate to 30 places in the survey. In a nutshell, the answer seems to be a combination of cheaper housing, higher incomes and slightly better ranked schools made the difference for Eudora.

Eudora schools received a “Great Schools” rating of 6 out of 10, while Lawrence schools were rated a 5. Median home values in Eudora came in at $145,800 compared with $176,500 in Lawrence. Median monthly homeowner costs were $1,394 in Eudora versus $1,461 in Lawrence. Median household income was $62,576 versus $44,713 in Lawrence. And finally, incomes from 1999 to 2012 grew by 50 percent in Eudora compared with only 28 percent in Lawrence. That’s the one that keeps some Lawrence community leaders up at night, although there were certainly cities that had lower growth rates. Wichita was at 15 percent, Topeka at 12 percent, and Kansas City at 14 percent. None of those cities ranked well as a good place for young families, by the way. Wichita was No. 46, Topeka was No. 41 and Kansas City was last at No. 48.

But one thing that does make Lawrence’s situation a bit unique is the difference between housing costs and incomes. Lawrence had the ninth highest monthly housing costs in the study, but had only the 26th highest income levels. Average Lawrence homeowners are paying 39 percent of their annual incomes in housing costs. In Eudora, for example, the level drops to 26 percent.