Telcos Lag Cablecos in Adding Broadband Subscribers

  • Broadband Competition
DURHAM, NH -- The 19 largest cable and telephone providers in the United States, which control about 93 percent of the broadband market, gained 3.4 million new high-speed Internet subscribers in 2010 - about 83 percent of the number they added in 2009. Data from Leichtman Research Group show that the top broadband providers now account for 75.1 million subscribers -- 41.5 million for cable companies and 33.5 million for telephone companies.

However, there were major differences between the experiences of cable companies and telephone companies: Cable companies' net subscriber additions in 2010 were down only 2 percent from the previous year, while telcos' net additions were down 38 percent. Though Comcast and AT&T both started the year with 16 million-plus subscribers, Comcast added more than a million new subscribers while AT&T added about half a million. Similarly, though Time Warner Cable and Verizon had comparable subscriber bases at the beginning of 2010, TWC added more than twice as many new subscribers as Verizon. (Data were adjusted to reflect system sales and acquisitions.) The same pattern continued for some of the middle-ranked providers. One telco, FairPoint, seems to have actually lost broadband subscribers. Admittedly, FairPoint was recently in bankruptcy - but then, so was cableco Charter Communications, which added a sizable number of new subscribers in 2010.

What's the reason for this discrepancy? Clearly, different factors are at work in different local markets - but it's hard to escape the conclusion that consumers are increasingly seeking higher bandwidth. Verizon and AT&T report that their next-generation FiOS (fiber to the home) and U-verse (fiber to the node) services, which offer broadband speeds comparable to or exceeding cable, are highly competitive with cable. The fact that these companies are still adding broadband subscribers at half the rate of cable companies implies that their customers in non-FiOS and non-U-verse markets must be staying away from old-fashioned DSL in droves.

Leichtman's detailed list follows:


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