From Comcast to Hawaiian Telcom: Tracking the top 16 residential broadband service providers in Q3 2017

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 16 broadband providers in the third quarter. 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 third quarter.

Also, be sure to check out to see how the results compare to our report from the second quarter of 2017.

In this quarterly 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 of the U.S. residential broadband market. This segment was led by Comcast and Charter, which current have 23.5 and 22.3 million subscribers, respectively.

However, recent research from Leichtman Research Group revealed that there’s clearly a divide between cable operators and telcos. In the third-quarter, the largest U.S. cable operators added about 540,000 subscribers, accounting for 69% of the net additions during the period.

By contrast, the top telcos lost about 155,000 subscribers in 3Q 2017—like the loss of about 150,000 broadband subscribers in the same period a year ago. Telcos have had combined net broadband losses in each of the past six quarters

In the first three quarters of 2017, cable companies added about 2 million broadband subscribers, while telcos lost about 430,000 subscribers.

"Over the past year, cable companies added about than 2.86 million broadband subscribers, accounting for 124% of the 2.3 million net broadband additions,” said Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for LRG.

Broadband additions, losses: Cable upper hand during the second quarter, with seven U.S. cable companies signing up residential high-speed internet users in the second quarter. Charter Communications reported the biggest growth at 249,000 subscribers followed by Comcast with 214,000 new subscribers. Cable’s aggressive DOCSIS 3.1 rollouts, which enable operators to deliver 1 Gbps over existing HFC infrastructure, continue to make cable a force telcos find hard to compete with on the speed front.

The effect of cable’s DOCSIS 3.1 drive was clearly felt by traditional telcos, which lost more wireline broadband users. A big piece of this for large telcos such as AT&T and Verizon was the decline of DSL subscribers. AT&T and Verizon gained 125,000 IP broadband subscribers and 66,000 Fios subscribers, but lost 96,000 and 76,000 legacy DSL subscribers during the third quarter. CenturyLink followed closely behind, losing 101,000 broadband subscribers in the third quarter, while Frontier Communications bled an additional 63,000 broadband users—an improvement over the second quarter.

Smaller, but growing telcos like Consolidated, also made a strong push in the third-quarter. By completing its acquisition of FairPoint Communications, Consolidated surpassed WideOpenWest (WOW) as the 11th largest broadband provider with a new total of 748,00 subscribers.

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

Top U.S. Wireline Broadband Carrier Metrics Q3 2017        
(ranking by total subscribers, losses/gains, revenue)        
Service provider Total broadband subs Subs added/lost Broadband Revenue Provider Type
1. Comcast 23.5M 214K $3.41B cable MSO
2. Charter 22.3M 249K $3.6B cable MSO
3. AT&T 14.3M 125K* $1.92B telco
4. Verizon  6.97M 66K** $2.94B telco
5. CenturyLink 5.76M (101K) $673M telco
6. Cox Communications 4.86M*** 40K not reported cable MSO
7. Frontier  4M (63K) $956M telco
8. Altice USA 4M 17K $646.1M cable MSO
9. Mediacom 1.19M 9K $169M cable MSO
10. Windstream 1.02M (8K) $26.5M telco
11. Consolidated 784K**** 301K $87.6M telco
12. WOW!  730K (2K)   cable MSO
13. Cable One 472K (3K) $109.3M cable MSO
14. TDS Telecom 374K***** (4K) $123M telco 
15. Cincinnati Bell 221K 7K $32.2M telco
16. Hawaiian Telcom 91K -400 $6.64M 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 Gfast, 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 over 1 million homes and has set a broader goal to provide 90% of homes passed with 40 Mbps, 70% of homes and businesses passed with 100 Mbps and over 20% with 1 Gbps or higher.

Cable MSOs: Cable MSOs made their broadband business by delivering broadband over existing HFC facilities. The advent of DOCSIS 3.1 enabled them to offer 1 Gbps. Being able to leverage the Other cable MSOs 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 96K DSL subs
** lost 76K DSL subs
*** LRG estimates
**** purchased FairPoint
***** includes wireline telco and cable broadband

This feature was updated to include TDS Telecom's residential broadband numbers.