From AT&T to Shentel: Tracking the Top 17 Broadband Service Providers in Q2 2021

Telcos and cable operators continued to ramp up broadband expansions in the first quarter with new FTTH and higher speed HFC-based offerings.

  • AT&T

Telcos and cable operators continued to ramp up broadband expansions in the second quarter with new FTTH and higher speed HFC-based offerings. Broadband continues to be a key priority for telcos and cable operators alike, a trend that continued into the second quarter of 2021.

According to a new Leichtman Research Group (LRG) report, the largest cable and wireline phone providers in the U.S. – representing about 96 percent of the market – acquired about 890,000 net additional broadband Internet subscribers in the second quarter, compared to a pro forma gain of approximately 1,260,000 subscribers in the same period a year ago.    

Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group (LRG), said, “net broadband additions in the second quarter of 2021 were the most in any second quarter in the past decade, except for 2Q 2020.” Over the past two years, Leichtman added that the largest broadband providers added 8,000,000 subscribers, including about 4,330,000 net adds over the past year and nearly 3,670,000 net adds over last year.

Broadband Communities is tracking the top 17 broadband providers. This list includes the top telco and cable operators, ranked by the total number of broadband subscribers at the end of the second quarter of 2021.

In this report, we track three main metrics:

Total Broadband Subscribers: This looks at the total number of subscribers the top 17 broadband providers had at the end of the first quarter. In the broadband race, it’s clear that cable continues to maintain the upper hand, controlling a significant market share of the U.S. residential broadband market.

This segment was led by Comcast and Charter, ending the quarter with 31 and 30 million total subscribers, respectively. Cox fared well during the quarter, adding 50,000 new broadband subscribers to end with a total of 5.5 subscribers. However, Altice only added 200 new subscribers. Meanwhile, other regional cable operators like Mediacom and Cable One fared well as their subscriber counts rose to 1.5 million and 1.01 million, respectively.

The top cable companies added about 840,000 subscribers in the second quarter – 60 percent of the net additions for the top cable companies in the second quarter of 2020.

Kagan, the media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence, said in its latest report what while “cable subscriber growth in the first half was down from the outsized gains of the pandemic-boosted demand for connectivity,” the segment still fared well. In all, cable operators added a total of 1.9 million residential and commercial net subscribers, accounting for 96 percent of broadband customer gains across the U.S. cable, telco and satellite segments in the first six months of 2021.

By contrast, the top wireline telcos only added about 50,000 total broadband subscribers in the second quarter – compared to a net loss of about 140,000 subscribers in the second quarter of 2020. It should be noted that FTTH continued to be a factor during the second quarter. Telcos added 400,000 new fiber subscribers and about 350,000 non-fiber net losses.

AT&T, Verizon and Lumen, which will now offer FTTH under the Quantum Fiber brand, ended the quarter with a total of 15.4, 7.3, and 4.67 million broadband subscribers.

AT&T has forecast additional FTTH growth throughout this year with the expectation of 1 million fiber net adds for the entire year. Quantum Fiber now has 746,000 FTTH subscribers and has enabled 2.6 locations.

Another provider to keep an eye on is Frontier Communications. The telco has accelerated its fiber network extension plans and set a new objective to reach 10 million total locations by 2025. During the second quarter, Frontier built fiber to approximately 157,000 recent locations. Frontier now expects to reach 600,000 new areas in 2021, resulting in about 4 million fiber locations passing by the year’s end.

Kagan said that although telcos still trail cable in the broadband race, their FTTH deployments are helping operators stem the bleeding.   

“The surging enthusiasm for FTTH upgrades is boosting telco wireline broadband net adds, albeit at relative magnitudes,” the research firm said. “While the segment's residential net adds in the second quarter pale in comparison to cable's growth, it represents a dramatic improvement over the second quarter track record since 2016.

Broadband Additions, Losses: Once again, cable commanded the broadband market during the first quarter, with seven U.S. cable companies signing up residential high-speed internet users. Comcast reported the most significant growth of users (354,000), followed by Charter (400,000 new subscribers). Cable’s aggressive DOCSIS 3.1 rollouts, which enable operators to deliver 1 Gbps over existing HFC infrastructure, remain attractive in markets where telcos offer the only DSL. Mediacom and Cable One also fared well during the quarter, with 14,000 new subscriber adds.

Once again, cable commanded the broadband market during the first quarter, with seven U.S. cable companies signing up residential high-speed internet users. Charter reported the most significant growth of users with 400,000 new subscribers, followed by Comcast with 354,000 new subscribers. Cable’s aggressive DOCSIS 3.1 rollouts, which enable operators to deliver 1 Gbps over existing HFC infrastructure, remain attractive in markets where telcos offer the only DSL. Cable’s aggressive DOCSIS 3.1 rollouts, which enable operators to deliver 1 Gbps over existing HFC infrastructure, continue to be attractive in markets where telcos offer only DSL.

According to LRG, cable operators added about 840,000 subscribers while telcos only added 50,000 new broadband subscribers.  

The effect of cable’s DOCSIS 3.1 and DOCSIS 4.0 drives had an impact on traditional telcos, which lost more lower-speed DSL subscribers. AT&T and Lumen, whose broadband division is now called Quantum Fiber, lost legacy DSL subscribers during the quarter. Specifically, AT&T lost 34,000 non-fiber and DSL subscribers, and Lumen lost 62,000 lower-speed subscribers.

However, AT&T and Lumen made report gains in FTTH. Though Lumen lost 62,000 broadband subscribers – mainly from lower-speed customers – it added about 31,000 fiber customers. It ended the quarter with about 2.4 million homes enabled with fiber and 746,000 broadband customers on the thread.

LRG said telcos had about 400,000 net adds via fiber in the second quarter and about 350,000 non-fiber net losses.

Broadband Revenues: As the largest cable operators and telcos add more broadband subscribers, they will enhance broadband revenues. Just as they had the highest number of subscribers, Comcast and Charter had the most significant broadband revenues: $5.7 and $5.2 billion, respectively. AT&T and Verizon reported broadband revenues of $3.1 and $2.9 billion, while Lumen’s consumer broadband revenues were $723 million. Look at the chart below to get a glimpse into how these providers performed. We calculated these numbers by collecting information from each service provider's earnings report. 

Provider Total Subs Subs added Broadband Revenues
Comcast 31,388,000 354,000 $5.7B
Charter 29,634,000 400,000 $5.2B
AT&T* 15,481,000 46,000 $3.1B
Verizon  7,263,000 70,000 $2.9B
Lumen (CenturyLink) 4,666,000 -62,000 $723M
Cox  5,485,000 50,000 not reported
Altice USA  4,401,300 200 $992.2M
Frontier 2,798,000 -22,000 $842M
Mediacom 1,468,000 14,000 $268M
Windstream  1,131,800 9,500 not reported
Cable One 1,017,000 14,000 $208M
WOW!  826,300 3,400 $156.4M
Atlantic Broadband  517,851 6,847 not reported
TDS Telecom** 513,600 11,900 $160M
Cincinnati Bell  437,800 200 not reported
Consolidated  393,480 -4,522 $68M
Shentel  111,475 3,900 $56.2 million
       
* lost 34K DSL subs      
** includes cable division results      
       

We track two main types of service providers that provide wireline residential broadband services:

ILECs: Traditional telcos are at a crossroads. As more customers want higher speeds, this group is moving to deploy FTTH across select markets. After a slight pause in 2020, AT&T has committed to building fiber to more than 3 million additional locations across more than 90 metro areas this year. Lumen, via its new brand Quantum Fiber and Frontier also have big FTTH commitments.

Cable MSOs: Cable MSOs did their broadband business by delivering broadband over HFC. Apart from deploying FTTH in select greenfield markets, the advent of DOCSIS 3.1 and the upcoming DOCSIS 4.1 standard enables cable MSOs to offer 1 Gbps over their existing hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) plant. However, some providers, such as Altice USA, have opted for an all-FTTH approach.

 

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