2009 Top Ops Awards: Independent Technology Award—Sunflower Broadband
"Word-class broadband. Hometown care" sounds like a slogan cooked up by the marketing department’s finest wordsmiths. In Sunflower’s case, the company backed up its catchy claim by pairing open communication with customers and straightforward pricing when it took its broadband service almost entirely digital.
You know an operator’s done its job well when other operators heap on the praise. So we asked tech guru Bill Lee, VP of engineering at MetroCast, about Sunflower’s digital push. It’s been "a godsend," was his assessment. "Typically you think it’s only the big guys who have the resources to be that cutting edge and aggressive in the implementation of new technology," Lee says. "But Sunflower raises the bar for all mid-tier operators."
Indeed. It’s old news that the Lawrence, Kansas-based operator consistently rolls out technology before large MSOs do. Sunflower was one of the first to offer the quad play, in 2004, in tandem with Sprint; it was on the bleeding edge of dynamic ad insertion in 2006; and it introduced Wi-Fi hot spots for customers soon after.
The company’s latest tech upgrade, migrating its video product to primarily digital-only, was the culmination of years of planning under the guidance of GM Patrick Knorr, who was named Strategic Thinker of the Year by this magazine last year. The move does not merely provide better, stronger, faster service for customers — Sunflower is using the digital foray as a means to showcase a reinvention of sorts for the company, complete with new image marketing.
Sunflower’s new campaign reflects recent changes in the head-end and programming, as several new HD channels and more on-demand content came online in tandem with the digital upgrade. "If it’s a technology that will better serve its customers, Sunflower is into it," Lee says.
The day of Sunflower’s digital transition a massive thunderstorm destroyed two miles of fiber, taking 12,000 customers offline with it. Despite the folly, which could have been misinterpreted as a tech glitch associated with the upgrade (it wasn’t), Sunflower experienced less than 1% churn – a testament to its strong customer service.