Frontier Communications added record number of fiber broadband customers in the 1st quarter of 2023. The fiber facility based network operator added 87,000 fiber subscribers (including 83,000 residential subs) in the first quarter of 2023, up from +54,000 in the year-ago quarter. Those results beat the 76,000 residential fiber subs Frontier was expected to add in the period. Frontier ended the quarter with 1.76 million fiber customers: 1.65 million residential subscribers and 110,000 business customers.
“We delivered another strong quarter and reached a critical milestone in our transformation. Thanks to our team’s consistent operational performance, we achieved EBITDA growth for the first time in five years,” said Nick Jeffery, President and Chief Executive Officer of Frontier.
“We are creating an internet company that people love. Over the last two years, we have rallied around our purpose of Building Gigabit America, invested in fiber, enhanced our product, put the customer at the center of everything we do and made it easier to do business with us. We are quickly becoming an agile, digital infrastructure company, and I’m confident we will return to growth this year.”
Frontier said it built fiber to an additional 339,000 locations in Q1 2023, up 60% from the 211,000 it built in the year-ago period. Frontier’s Q1 buildout was better than the 300,000 locations expected by the analysts at New Street Research. Frontier ended the quarter with 5.5 million fiber passings and 15.4 million total passings.
First-Quarter 2023 Consolidated Financial Results:
• Revenue of $1.44 billion decreased 0.5% from the first quarter of 2022 as growth in consumer, business and wholesale fiber was more than offset by declines in legacy copper
• Operating income was $143 million and net income was $3 million
• Adjusted EBITDA of $519 million increased 2.0% over the first quarter of 2022 as revenue declines were more than offset by lower content, selling, general and administrative expenses, and cost-saving initiatives
• Adjusted EBITDA margin of 36.0% increased from 35.2% in the first quarter of 2022
• Capital expenditures of $1.15 billion increased from $0.45 billion in the first quarter of 2022 as fiber expansion initiatives accelerated First-Quarter 2023
• Consumer revenue of $761 million decreased 1.9% from the first quarter of 2022 as strong growth in fiber broadband was more than offset by declines in legacy copper broadband and voice
• Consumer fiber revenue of $448 million increased 10.1% over the first quarter of 2022 as growth in consumer broadband, voice, and other more than offset declines in video
• Consumer fiber broadband revenue of $298 million increased 17.3% over the first quarter of 2022 driven by growth in fiber broadband customers
• Consumer fiber broadband customer net additions of 84,000 resulted in consumer fiber broadband customer growth of 19.5% from the first quarter of 2022
• Consumer fiber broadband customer churn of 1.20% was roughly flat with churn of 1.19% in the first quarter of 2022
• Consumer fiber broadband ARPU of $61.44 decreased 1.1% from the first quarter of 2022 driven primarily by the autopay and gift-card incentives introduced in the third quarter of 2021 First-Quarter 2023
Business and Wholesale Results:
• Business and wholesale revenue of $657 million decreased 1.4% from the first quarter of 2022 as growth in fiber was more than offset by declines in copper
• Business and wholesale fiber revenue of $281 million increased 6.0% over the first quarter of 2022 as growth in business was partly offset by modest declines in wholesale
• Business fiber broadband customer churn of 1.45% increased from 1.24% in the first quarter of 2022
• Business fiber broadband ARPU of $104.38 decreased 1.2% from the first quarter of 2022
While Frontier’s fiber growth engine continues to hum along, the company is dealing with higher costs related to its fiber initiative. The company raised its 2023 capex guidance to a range of $3 billion to $3.2 billion, up from an original outlook of $2.8 billion.
Frontier blamed the increase on a couple of factors – a decision to build inventory opportunistically where it saw supply chains ease a bit in the quarter and higher build costs as it scales its build into new geographies. Frontier is also seeing higher labor costs being driven by general inflation and higher rates as some of its multi-year labor contracts come up for renewal.
The anticipated increase in capex this year concerned investors. Frontier shares were down $2.33 (-10.94%) to $19.13 each in Friday morning trading.
Overall, Frontier expects fiber build costs in 2023 to be in the range of $1,000 to $1,100. But it’s confident that total project build costs will remain at about $1,000 per location as it mixes in lower-cost locations in some new-build states and benefits from aerial builds and an increased focus on multiple dwelling units (MDUs), Frontier CFO Scott Beasley said on Friday’s earnings call.
The current capex picture isn’t expected to impact Frontier’s overall fiber buildout/upgrade plan. “We’re confident that the 10 million locations is still attractive to build out,” Beasley said. Frontier is also continuing to explore an additional 1 million to 2 million additional fiber passings beyond the original 10 million target.
Frontier says it’s too early to tell how this year’s cost headwinds might impact future opportunities coming by way of the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. New Street Research estimates that there are 1.2 million BEAD-eligible locations in Frontier’s footprint. New Street Research expects ARPU pressure at Frontier to ease in the second quarter of the year and return to growth in the third quarter.
Frontier recently initiated several consumer pricing changes for value-added services that were previously free. Whole-home Wi-Fi, for example, now costs $10 per month, its Home Shield Elite product is now $6 per month extra and the company is now charging $50 for professional installs. Those actions are driving new fiber customer monthly ARPU to a range of $65 to $70, the company said.
Frontier is also speeding up its original cost savings target to $500 million by the end of 2024. Its prior target was $400 million by the end of 2024. Frontier is approaching that target through a range of streamlining and simplification initiatives, including improved field operations, self-service capabilities, the consolidation of call centers and an ongoing reduction in copper infrastructure.
Frontier’s guidance for the full year 2023:
• Adjusted EBITDA of $2.11 – $2.16 billion, unchanged from prior guidance
• Fiber build of 1.3 million new locations, unchanged from prior guidance
• Cash capital expenditures of $3.00 – $3.20 billion, an increase from prior guidance of $2.80 billion, reflecting higher inventory levels and fiber build costs
• Cash taxes of approximately $20 million, unchanged from prior guidance
• Net cash interest payments of approximately $655 million, an increase from prior guidance of $630 million, reflecting the $750 million of debt raised in March 2023
• Pension and OPEB expense of approximately $50 million (net of capitalization), unchanged from prior guidance
• Cash pension and OPEB contributions of approximately $125 million, unchanged from prior guidance
Frontier Communications reports added 45,000 fiber broadband subscribers in 4Q-2021 – best in 5 years!