From Comcast to Cincinnati Bell: Tracking the top 15 residential broadband service providers

Who has the most wireline broadband subscribers? Cable and telecom carriers continue to expand their broadband footprints using a mix of copper, HFC and fiber technologies to satisfy consumers' desire for higher speed offerings.

We are tracking the top 15 broadband providers. This list includes the top telco and cable operators, which are ranked by the total number of broadband subscribers they had as of the end of the second quarter.

In this report we track three main metrics:

Total broadband subscribers: Here we looked at the total number of subscribers these 15 providers had as of the end of the quarter. In the broadband race, it’s clear that cable has the upper hand, controlling 63.6% of the U.S. residential broadband market. This segment was led by Comcast and Charter with 25.3 million and 22 million subscribers, respectively. According to the Leichtman Research Group, cable had a total of over 59 million subscribers, while telcos ended the quarter with a total of only 34.2 million subscribers. 

Broadband additions, losses: Cable clearly had the upper hand during the second quarter, with seven U.S. cable companies signing up 461,997 residential high-speed internet users in the second quarter. Charter Communications reported the biggest growth at 267,000 users, followed by Comcast with 175,000. Cable’s aggressive DOCSIS 3.1 rollouts, which enable operators to deliver 1 Gbps over existing HFC infrastructure, are paying off.

The effect of cable’s DOCSIS 3.1 drive was clearly felt by traditional telcos, which lost 233,260 more wireline broadband users, a slight improvement compared to the 360,783 this group lost during the same period in 2016. A big piece of this for large telcos such as AT&T and Verizon was the decline of DSL subscribers. AT&T and Verizon lost 104,000 and 72,000 legacy DSL subscribers during the quarter. But the biggest loser was Frontier Communications, which bled an additional 101,000 wireline broadband users. CenturyLink followed closely behind, losing 77,000 in the second quarter.

However compelling cable’s lead in broadband is, Leichtman Group Research noted that cable’s broadband growth trend slowed during the second quarter. Cable operators added 553,293 residential HSI users in the same period of 2016, reflecting a 16.5% decline.

Broadband revenues: As the largest cable operators and telcos continue to add more broadband subscribers, they will enhance broadband revenues. Similar to total subscribers, Comcast and Charter had the largest broadband revenues at $3.7 billion and $3.51 billion. AT&T and Verizon reported broadband revenues of $1.9 billion and $2.9 billion, while CenturyLink saw revenues dip year-over-year to $661 million.

Take a look at the chart below to get a glimpse into how these providers performed. These rankings were calculated from collecting information from each service provider's earnings report. 

Top U.S. Wireline Broadband Carrier Metrics Q2 2017        
(ranking by total subscribers, losses/gains, revenue)        
Service provider Total broadband subs Subs added/lost Broadband Revenue Provider Type
1. Comcast 25.3M 134K $3.7B cable MSO
2. Charter 22M 231K $3.51B cable MSO
3. AT&T 14.3M 112K* $1.9B telco
4. Verizon  6.98M 49K**  $2.9B telco
5. CenturyLink 5.97M (65K) $661M telco
6. Cox Communications 4.83M*** 40K not reported cable MSO
7. Frontier  4.06M (101K) $974M telco
8. Altice USA 4M 18K $629M cable MSO
9. Mediacom 1.2M 6K $167M cable MSO
10. Windstream 1.1M (21.8K) $25.9M telco
11. WOW!  726K (2K) $99M cable MSO
12. Cable One 585K 2.6K $103M cable MSO
13. Consolidated 480K **** 3K $50.9M telco
14. Cincinnati Bell 307K***** 6.8K $31.2M telco
15. FairPoint 304K (1K) $37.7M telco

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

ILECs: Traditional telcos are at a crossroads. As more customers want higher speeds, this group has two options: shorten copper loops to deliver VDSL2 or, or deploy FTTH. AT&T and CenturyLink, two carriers with sizable copper plant infrastructure, have been deploying a mix of copper-based technology and FTTH. AT&T has committed to build fiber to over 12 million homes by 2019, while CenturyLink has built out FTTH to 1.5 million homes and is increasing speeds of 40 and 100 Mbps via VDSL2 technology.

Cable MSOs: Cable MSOs made their broadband business by delivering broadband over HFC. The advent of DOCSIS 3.1 enabled them to offer 1 Gbps. However, some providers like Altice are opting to move toward an all-FTTH approach. The service provider is on track to deploy fiber to 1 million newly constructed homes in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut by the end of 2018.

* lost 104K DSL subs
** lost 72K DSL subs
*** LRG, industry estimates
**** will gain 320K subs from FairPoint acquisition
***** lost 7,100 DSL subs