Local Service Providers - Pros and Cons
Connected Home is always looking for ways to help you save money. Whether it be through automation, lighting or HVAC controls, security, and especially when it comes to entertainment. Entertainment is one of the best features of a home to bring the entire family together. You may argue over what to watch, but we definitely don't want to see families arguing over cost of the programming they enjoy. To begin this series, we are first going to talk about the cable options that are available in our area. We want to highlight the pros and cons of AT&T, Spectrum and ATMC to help you in making your choice in which services you need and which services you want.
Spectrum is one of the largest cable companies in the country after their merger with Charter. The biggest stand out feature of this company is there are NO Contracts for any service. All taxes and fees are said to be included, but not always. Like most of the cable providers, they offer an introductory rate for a year. Then the price can go up or stay the same depending on their current specials, but you can upgrade or downgrade at that time or simply pick another package that fits your budget. From personal experience, it can be difficult to reach your desired outcome, but have patience and remember "you get more bees with honey, than vinegar."
Spectrum by far has the largest capabilities in Brunswick, Pender and down to Jacksonville boasting 99% coverage. AT&T and ATMC don't even come close, meaning that normally your only choice for reliable service, even if only DSL, internet and cable service is Spectrum. You can get stand alone internet starting at $45 a month for 100MbPS connection. Spectrum offers Double and Triple play deals. The double play offer includes Internet at 100MbPS and Cable TV with optional DVR for up to 4 rooms starting at $89.99 a month. The triple play offers Internet at 100MbPS, Cable TV and Phone service starting at $99.99 a month. Both plans include FREE HD content. Spectrum offers an app for your smartphone to watch on the go! Internet speeds are standard for the area and the prices seem reasonable at first. Each of these packages start with 125+ channels, seems like a lot. The technicians are normally knowledgeable, especially if you get a corporate installer and not a contractor. They now offer cellular phone service as well using Verizon towers which are normally the most reliable in the area and it can be bundles onto your cable bill. Simply plans at $14 a month per GB of data with unlimited calling or get *unlimited everything for $45 per line no minimum lines.
Spectrum uses coaxial connections on almost all of their equipment. Most time this is cheaper but also less reliable than a LAN connection and it is older tech. Plus because the equipment is mostly lower end, expect to have some repairs; cable boxes will need to be swapped at least once and I went through 5 remotes in a year. At least they were free replacements. There is only one location to get actually face to face help from Spectrum for almost 60 miles and Mayfair has a long wait. Nearly half of the channels are normal quality and the other half are the EXACT same channels, just HD. So whatever your package is, some of the 125 channels and all of the + channels are simply HD versions just making it more complicated to find what you want because there are 2 or 3 of every channel. Why don't just make all HD? If you have children, Disney and Disney Jr. are not included in the base package, so you immediately jump to a minimum of $119.99. Want some movie channels? Now you are at the Triple Play Silver at $139.99 (where I was). Want to be able to record using a DVR? The box rental is $11.99 ($6.99) with Silver or higher) plus you have to pay $12.99 a month for the DVR service capabilities. Bottom Line expect to spend around $160 a month for a good mid-range package.
ATMC is a local company supporting all of Brunswick and Columbus counties and is a cooperative membership corporation. The fact that they are the "only" local company says a lot about them and their service. You actually get a live person when you call in and their customer service is actually superb and the best around because they are local. National companies tend to treat their customers as another number, but with ATMC you are a member in the corp. They offer similar services that the larger companies offer at comparable prices.
ATMC offers much faster speeds than Spectrum. Spectrum runs at 100-300MbPS. ATMC offers these speeds also, but now offers Fiber then runs at incredible 1GbPS, which is 3x faster than the highest Spectrum plan. You can get stand alone internet starting at $65 a month for 150MbPS. Their introductory Triple Bundle starts at $159.99 and they have an option for Merge TV that offers streaming on 3 devices without the cost of equipment rental. Cable TV comes with 180+ channels of which most are HD, but still some double channels. Plus get the ATMC2Go app and watch on your phone or tablet. If this is a second home, ATMC offers a service where you can suspend your plan and pay a reduced rate while not at this home. They also offer smaller cable boxes that use a LAN connection instead of coaxial cables that come with Spectrum for better connectivity. One of the best qualities of ATMC is that they give back locally! They offer numerous local scholarships, community and education grants, plus they are a membership corp which means every year you get a credit on your bill as a profit share in the corp! ATMC also offers cellular service you can bundle into your plan using AT&T towers for their backbone carrier. Plans require 2 year contracts just like the cable and internet so everything is normally on the same cycle.
Fiber is expensive. To get the 1GbPS speed with the best standard tv package (no premiums) and phone, it will run you over $209.99 a month for service in 3 rooms. DVR runs over $211.99 a month! You may need to do some work to your home if you are not building. ATMC requires Lan connections for most of their newer equipment and in most homes already built, there will be a coaxial connection. The biggest con with ATMC is that they require a 2 year contract. All f the prices I quoted come directly from the website and these are "promotional" prices that will change in the second year, normally a minimum of 30% increase. They are higher than Spectrum during the promo period and after, but they offer a deeper range in services, including the fiber option is you have gamers in the home.
AT&T has been around a long time. They have been innovating the communication game since after the days of Ma Bell. They were broke up by the government after coming close to monopolizing communication services and eventually brought most of their services back together in the late 90's. They are a very well rounded company that offers the same services as the other providers, but are quicker to incorporate newer tech and normally uses solid equipment so their defect rate is lower. After their purchase/merger with Directv a few years back, they are offering a better range of digital television.
Fiber! AT&T was the first to roll out fiber networks and have the largest area of fiber around the tri-county area. The fiber is incredibly fast and consistent with not much downtime. AT&T offers bundle plans also, but does not offer the required phone line that comes with Spectrum or ATMC so the bundle price is lower. You can start with internet and Directv "All Entertainment" package with 160+ channels and 100MbPS for only $80(promo price)! They also have fiber bundles starting at $100 which also include the ALL Entertainment Directv package. You get a FREE upgrade to a Genie DVR box when you sign up with AT&T which saves you at least $7 a month over the others. Even better, their modem/router all in one is also FREE with your agreement saving you another $7-10 a month. AT&T also offers the Directv app for streaming on the go.Plus you can also bundle your cell phone into your deal with AT&T and get incredible service with an extra discount on you service. Their cellular service is very good nationwide and are the first to bring 5G to the market for the fastest cellular in the country. To put this in perspective, with AT&T bundles you can get 1GbPS (940MbPS) fiber internet + 330+ Directv stations on the premier package including premiums like HBO, Starz, Cinemax, Encore and many more for only $170 a month(introductory price) the first year!
Contracts can be confusing and with AT&T even more so. The contract for the Fiber is 1 year. The contract for your Directv digital tv portion is 2 years, with prices almost doubled in the second year($110 premier plan goes to $195). And the phone contracts are either 1 or 2 years depending on the plan or phone you have. You never really know what you can cancel or when. AT&T does not offer stand alone internet. It must be bundled with at least one other service so a minumum of $90+.AT&T service is very limited, especially the Fiber. Live in Brunswick Forest, Waterford or St. James you probably have fiber, but other neighborhoods are still waiting or currently having lines put in the ground like my neighborhood currently. For instance, currently Brunswick County has less than 27% fiber coverage and 43% DSL coverage. To get many of the cellular deals, they require a minimum number of phone lines(most plans require 4 lines). To get any real bundle deal with AT&T, they require you sign up for autopay and pay first months plus deposit before you can activate plus a $19.95 activation fee for each service.
Finally, here is something that oddly all three companies offer to their customers and are just about identical and even use some of the same "hotspots" and contractors. Each offers free installation services. Each offer nationwide access to 1000's of wifi network hotspots. ALL 3 have a contract with McAfee for a free subscription to Safe Suite to help you protect all of your devices in the home!
Each have their own Pros and Cons and some or all maybe better or worse for your situation. Some may not even be available in your area. But that is why the market has changed dramatically over the last 10 years. In the next part of this series we will be examining "Cutting the Cable" Note that you can never completely cut the cable because there goes your internet connection, but this refers to your cable and phone. Most people have already dropped the home phone unless required in a bundle and they never use it anyway. There are so many Satellite TV options, subscription services and streaming services/devices now days you can save HUGE every month. The second part will be covering Satellite TV companies and the third will be covering streaming services and lastly streaming devices + my recommendations for optimal savings. All 4 blogs will be posted over the next 2 weeks!