Broadband Growth Continues During the Pandemic

Leichtman Research Group recently released the broadband customer statistics for the end of the third quarter of 2020 for the largest cable and telephone companies. Leichtman compiles most of these numbers from the statistics provided to stockholders other than for Cox, which is estimated. Leichtman says this group of companies represents 96% of all US landline broadband customers.

The second quarter shows big growth in broadband customers with over one and a half million new broadband subscribers customers added by the big ISPs. The following are the statistics for the first and second quarters of 2020.

9/30/20 3Q Change % Change 2Q 20 Adds
Comcast 30,062,000 633,000 2.2% 323,000
Charter 28,633,000 537,000 1.9% 850.000
AT&T 15,375,000 174,000 1.1% (114,000)
Verizon 7,069,000 110,000 1.6% (23,000)
Cox 5,330,000 50,000 0.9% 50,000
CenturyLink 4,563,000 (75,000) -1.6% (29,000)
Altice 4,363,500 26,000 0.6% 70,400
Frontier 3,119,000 (23,000) -0.7% (41,000)
Mediacom 1,425,000 29,000 2.1% 47,000
Windstream 1,102,300 12,900 1.2% 22,100
Cable ONE 865,000 27,000 3.2% 45,000
WOW! 808,900 3,300 0.4% 8,000
Consolidated 792,211 1,008 0.1% 5,078
TDS 487,700 8,200 1.7% 19,500
Atlantic Broadband 492,212 13,523 2.8% 6,000
Cincinnati Bell 434,500 2,500 0.6% 4,500
104,922,323 1,529,431 1.5% 1,243,578
Total Cable 71,979,612 1,318,823 1.9% 1,399,400
Total Telco 32,942,711 210,608 0.6% (115,822)

Going purely by the numbers, the cable companies collectively added 1.3 million customers in the third quarter  – 80,000 less than the second quarter. The telcos made a huge turnaround and adding 210,000 customers in the quarter after having lost 116,000 customers just a quarter earlier.

There are still a few factors that probably make 2020 subscriber numbers a little soft. For example, most of the big ISPs are still not disconnecting customers for non-payment. At some future date that back billing is going to come due, and one might expect that due to widespread unemployment that there will be a significant downside adjustment. Some of the ISPs have also been providing free or low-cost broadband to students working from home – something that will also eventually end. One piece of evidence that subscriber numbers are soft is that the third quarter also saw 1,500,000 homes disconnect traditional cable TV, largely to save money.

Probably the most important thing demonstrated by the growth numbers is the huge and growing demand for broadband during the pandemic – even if the numbers are masking homes that might not be able to afford broadband post-pandemic. We continue to find evidence that broadband has become a necessity for homes.

There is another industry trend that is not reflected in these numbers. OpenVault reported recently that at the end of the third quarter that 5.6% of homes were now subscribed to a gigabit broadband product. That means that just in the third quarter that 875,000 homes upgraded to gigabit. Similar upgrading can be seen for subscribers to bandwidth tiers between 200 Mbps and gigabit speeds. People are clearly finding existing broadband products to be inadequate and are upgrading to faster products.

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