Charter CEO: Focus on symmetrical speeds due to marketing, not need

Charter CEO Tom Rutledge isn’t sold on the idea that consumers need symmetrical broadband speeds, but says it has a roadmap to offer them using DOCSIS 3.1 technology to keep up with competition from fiber players.

Speaking on the subject during an investor conference, Rutledge argued “It’s a marketing claim. It’s a claim without much reality from a [data] use perspective…Even one gig down is to some extent a marketing claim from a reality perspective.” However, to the extent that it needs to keep up with such claims from competitors, Rutledge said it can.

He pointed to DOCSIS 3.1 as one avenue to upgrade its network, stating it has a pathway to “take that up to multi-gigabit symmetrical speeds and to do that very inexpensively, without having to change out any of the CPE.” In future, it can also tap into DOCSIS 4.0 to get it to 10-gig speeds to stay on par with fiber service, he said.

Rutledge has a point in that upstream data consumption remains far lower than downstream usage. A recent OpenVault report showed the average broadband household used just 32 GB of upstream data per month in Q4 2021, compared to a whopping 504 GB of downstream data.

However, that longstanding trend is beginning to shift. Last year, New Street Research predicted uplink traffic for AT&T will rise from 12% to 20% in the coming years. In a recent interview with Fierce, AT&T VP of Broadband Technology Management Josh Goodell said uplink consumption has already jumped 3x among users on its symmetrical multi-gig service plans.

Echoing comments made by Comcast CEO Brian Roberts earlier in the week, Rutledge dismissed the competitive threat from fixed wireless access technology, arguing it will fall by the wayside much like DSL has as bandwidth and speed demands rise.

"If you look at DSL and VDSL, I think we have a superior business and we're taking those businesses away. And I think the same will be true of fixed wireless. I don’t think it really will stay with us from a competitive point of view,” he said. “Not that it will have no impact and not that DSL doesn’t have impact, it will, but I think that we can be better and more competitive.”

Rutledge insisted Charter’s technology is “better and provides more throughput” than others. He said that’s key given 25% of the operator’s broadband only customers already consumer a terabyte or more of data per month.