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March 2020

Staying agile during challenging times

We hope everyone is doing well and staying healthy amid the COVID-19 outbreak. As many of you have experienced, this unique situation has significantly increased the amount of individuals working from home. A trend we've noticed in our communities is how ill-equipped many residential homes are to handle the increased internet traffic necessary to run a home office. Often this is due to slow internet speeds, poor performing rental equipment or a combination of both. Let's not forget, whether work-from-home or not, the price of monthly cable and internet bills are still high.

Thankfully, we’ve confirmed that Marshmallow Streaming is allowed to continue serving our customers during this time, working with essential infrastructure in the form of internet and telecommunication systems.

While we practice proper health precautions when visiting a customer's home, we understand not everyone may be comfortable with visitors at this time. In these cases, we are continuing to serve our customers remotely by negotiating internet contracts, as well as answering any and all questions.

We recognize the current COVID-19 situation has drastically changed home settings and daily routines. We encourage you to contact us at any time with any concerns or questions. Our consultations are always free, whether over the phone, email or in-home.  

George Kontos, Co-Founder & CEO

A need for speed: Understanding internet service

Regardless of how you use the internet, whether web browsing, streaming or working from home, it's important to understand the internet speeds you're paying for. Internet service is not regulated as a utility, such as gas, water or electric — meaning there is a market of different price points, speeds and how the service is physically delivered to your home.

Xfinity vs. AT&T
In the Chicagoland area, Xfinity and AT&T are the two main providers of internet service. Xfinity, along with WOW and RCN, is a cable internet provider. They deliver internet service through cable TV lines in your home. AT&T, on the other hand, provides DSL internet, which is delivered over phone lines.

Speed & Price
In our experience, cable internet (such as Xfinity) offers faster speeds at better prices. The offerings are also consistent across all of our customer locations. Below is an example of Xfinity offerings:
However, AT&T makes things a little more interesting. When you visit AT&T's website to shop for internet service, it will first ask you to enter your address. While going through this process with our AT&T customers at Marshmallow, we discovered AT&T offers different internet speeds, for the same price, based on location. Here are four offers for four different addresses around the Chicago suburbs.
You read that right.

One address was offered a measly 10 Mbps for $49.99/mo, when another could get 20X that speed for the same price through Xfinity.

However, AT&T's website does not take rental equipment upgrades into account. One of our customers was happy with their AT&T service (not the price), so first they asked if we could get them a better deal on internet service instead of switching over completely. AT&T's website offered them 25 Mbps at $50/mo, which was not ideal for their stremaing setup. We called AT&T on their behalf, and the representative offered 100 Mbps service for $50/mo, but a technician would have to come out and swap our their modem because it was rated for slower speeds. We selected this option, so our customer was able to keep the same provider while increasing internet speeds.

Rental Equipment
No matter which provider you have, you’ll need a modem and a router to connect to the internet. 

Xfinity charges $14/mo to rent their modem/router combo, and as far as we’ve seen, there is no way to waive the fee. However, Xfinity allows for customers to purchase and install their own modem, eliminating the $14/mo fee, as well as setting up a Wi-Fi system that delivers higher speeds and coverage throughout your home.

Unfortunately, AT&T forces you to rent their modem/router for a monthly fee of around $10/mo. Though, we confirmed through an AT&T rep that you can call and get that fee waived. In this case, even though you're stuck with the equipment they provide, you at least do not have to pay for it monthly.

Cutting the cord when cable bills spike

Earlier this month DecisionData.org reported that the average cable package bill is now higher than all other household utilities combined as seen below:
Sources: DecisionData.org 
At Marshmallow Streaming, we are no stranger to this increase, which is why we work to correct this imbalance. Here's how you can tackle this scenario:

Say you are paying the national average of $217.42 for your cable package, which includes internet, cable TV, landline, rented modem/router and three cable boxes.

The first step is to drop down to internet-only service by removing cable TV and the landline (assuming you don't need it anymore). Let's go with $40/mo, locked in for 12 months, for 100 Mbps speed. Next, remove all the rental equipment. The three cable boxes and modem/router combo are costing you close to $50/mo in rental fees.

Now, we need to replace the rental equipment with products you already own.

First, let's start with your home Wi-Fi network. This will depend on the size and configuration of your home to make sure you are getting strong enough Wi-Fi coverage in the most important areas. For a mid-size home, say 1,500-3,000 square feet, this may run around $250 for both a new modem and router setup.

Next, you select streaming devices to replace the cable boxes. For maximum savings, we can install three Amazon Fire TV Sticks at $40 each. Based on how much you want to spend upfront, you can also go with premium devices that run faster for a higher price, such as the Roku Ultra ($99), Amazon Fire Cube ($99) or Apple TV ($149).

Finally, you subscribe to a live TV streaming service, such as YouTube TV for $49.99/mo, replacing the cable TV package you removed.

To summarize this cord-cutting scenario:
Based on your new monthly savings, the upfront cost will pay for itself in less than three months.

Contract expiring? Here's how we handle it

Unfortunately, cable companies do not inform their customers when their contracts are about to expire, leaving people caught off guard when they receive a bill 40% higher than it was the previous month.

That's not the way we do business. We implemented a new system that tracks the contracts we set up, allowing us to alert our customers when their contract is about to expire. This way, we can start negotiating new contracts based on our customers' needs and promotion availability in the market.

One promotion that Xfinity offers: You can get $10 off your monthly bill if you set up Eco-Bill and Autopay. With Eco-Bill, you receive billing statements via email, instead of through the mail — and Autopay sets up automatic payments through your credit/debit card or checking accounts. You need both of these features turned on to receive the benefit. We always encourage our customers to sign up for this promotion to save that extra $120 for the year.

One thing to note: We learned that once your contract expires, the Eco-Bill and Autopay settings reset. Right before one of our customer's contracts was about to expire, we noticed their internet bill went from $50/mo to the everyday pricing of $82/mo, when it should have been $72/mo with the Eco-Bill/Autopay benefit.

Luckily, we were able to resolve this by simply turning those settings back on while successfully negotiating another year of internet service for $50/mo.  If your contract recently expired with Xfinity, make sure to log into your account and turn the Eco-Bill and Autopay settings on to maximize your yearly savings.
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