Broadband continues to be a key priority for telcos and cable operators alike, a trend that continued into the first quarter of 2021. Though the COVID-19 pandemic shows signs of letting up, broadband adoption and use continued to rise.
Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group (LRG), said that the first quarter “marked the fourth time in the past five quarters that there were more than one million net broadband additions in the U.S.”
A new LRG report found that the largest cable and wireline phone providers in the U.S. – representing about 96 percent of the market – acquired about 1.02 million net additional broadband internet subscribers in the first quarter, compared with a pro forma gain of about 1.17 million subscribers in the same period a year ago. Overall, broadband additions in the first quarter of 2021 were 87 percent of those in the first quarter of 2020.
These major broadband providers now account for about 107 million subscribers. Out of this group, cable operators remain the dominant players, with 73.7 million broadband subscribers, while the top wireline phone companies have 33.3 million subscribers.
Alternatively, the top wireline providers only added about 85,000 total broadband subscribers in the first quarter of 2021, compared with a net loss of about 60,000 subscribers in the same period a year ago.
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 they had as of the end of the first quarter 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 as of the end of the first quarter. In the broadband race, it’s clear that cable continues to maintain the upper hand, controlling a large market share of the U.S. residential broadband market.
This segment was led by Comcast and Charter, ending the quarter with 31 and 29.2 million total subscribers, respectively. Cox and Altice USA also fared well during the quarter, adding 55,000 and 12,000 new broadband subscribers.
AT&T, Verizon and Lumen, which will now offer FTTH under the Quantum Fiber brand, ended the quarter with a total of 15.4, 7.2 and 4.73 million broadband subscribers.
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 biggest growth of users (460,000), followed by Charter (355,000 new subscribers). Cable’s aggressive DOCSIS 3.1 rollouts, which enable operators to deliver 1 Gbps over existing HFC infrastructure, continue to be attractive in markets in which telcos offer only DSL.
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 biggest growth of users with 460,000, followed by Charter with 355,000 new subscribers. Cable’s aggressive DOCSIS 3.1 rollouts, which enable operators to deliver 1 Gbps over existing HFC infrastructure, continue to be attractive in markets in which telcos offer 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 in which telcos offer only DSL.
According to LRG, cable operators added a total of more than 935,000 subscribers, while telcos added only 85,000 broadband subscribers.
The effect of cable’s DOCSIS 3.1 and DOCSIS 4.0 drives was clearly felt by 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 39,000 non-fiber and DSL subscribers and Lumen lost 17,000 lower-speed subscribers.
It should be noted, however, that AT&T and Lumen did report gains in FTTH. AT&T added 235,000 fiber subscribers but lost 39,000 DSL subscribers and Verizon added 64,000 new Fios internet subscribers during the first quarter. Though Lumen lost a total of 17,000 broadband subscribers – mainly from lower-speed customers – it added about 40,000 fiber customers. It ended the quarter with about 2.5 million homes enabled with fiber and 715,000 broadband customers on fiber.
LRG said that broadband losses among telco non-fiber subscribers were more than offset by more than 400,000 net adds via fiber in the first quarter, bringing the number of telco fiber broadband subscribers to about 14.6 million.
Broadband Revenues: As the largest cable operators and telcos continue to add more broadband subscribers, they will enhance broadband revenues. Just as they had the highest number of subscribers, Comcast and Charter had the largest broadband revenues: $5.6 and $5.1 billion, respectively. AT&T and Verizon reported broadband revenues of $3.1 and $2.9 billion, while Lumen’s broadband revenues were $770 million.
Look at the chart below to get a glimpse into how these providers performed. The rankings were calculated by collecting information from each service provider’s earnings report.
|Service provider||Total Broadband Subs||Subs Added/Lost||Broadband Revenue|
|Cincinnati Bell||438K||2K||not reported|
|Atlantic Broadband||511K||6K||not reported|
|* lost 39K DSL subs|
|** includes SMB revenues|
|*** LRG estimates|
|**** includes cable business 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 build fiber to more than 3 million additional locations across more than 90 metro areas this year. Lumen has 715,000 FTTH customers and has enabled 2.5 million sites with fiber.
Cable MSOs: Cable MSOs made 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.