Leichtman Research Group: U.S. broadband growth returns to pre-pandemic levels in Q3-2021

Leichtman Research Group, Inc. (LRG) found that the largest cable and wireline phone providers in the U.S. – representing about 96% of the market – acquired about 630,000 net additional broadband Internet subscribers in 3Q 2021, compared to a pro forma gain of about 1,525,000 subscribers in 3Q 2020, about 615,000 in 3Q 2019, and about 600,000 in 3Q 2018.

These top broadband providers now account for about 107.9 million subscribers, with top cable companies having about 75.2 million broadband subscribers, and top wireline phone companies having about 32.7 million subscribers.

Findings for the 3rd /quarter include:

  • Overall, broadband additions in 3Q 2021 were 41% of those in 3Q 2020
  • The top cable companies added about 590,000 subscribers in 3Q 2021 – 45% of the net additions for the top cable companies in 3Q 2020
  • The top wireline phone companies added about 40,000 total broadband subscribers in 3Q 2021 – compared to about 200,000 net adds in 3Q 2020.  Telcos had about 475,000 net adds via fiber in 3Q 2021, and about 435,000 non-fiber net losses

“Broadband additions returned to pre-pandemic levels in the third quarter of 2021,” said Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group, Inc. “The top broadband providers added significantly fewer subscribers than in last year’s third quarter, but had a similar number of net adds as in 3Q 2019 and 3Q 2018.”

Broadband Providers/ Subscribers at end of 3Q 2021// Net Adds in 3Q 2021/
Cable Companies
Comcast 31,688,000 300,000
Charter 29,899,000 265,000
Cox* 5,510,000 25,000
Altice 4,388,100 (13,200)
Mediacom 1,466,000 (2,000)
Cable One 1,030,000 13,000
Atlantic Broadband^ 717,000 3,000
WOW (WideOpenWest)^ 509,500 1,600
Total Top Cable 75,207,600 592,400
Wireline Phone Companies
AT&T 15,510,000 29,000
Verizon^^ 7,337,000 74,000
CenturyLink/Lumen 4,589,000 (77,000)
Frontier 2,789,000 (9,000)
Windstream 1,147,000 15,200
TDS 522,800 9,200
Cincinnati Bell* 439,000 1,200
Consolidated 390,661 (2,819)
Total Top Telco    32,724,461 39,781


About 630,000 Added Broadband in 3Q 2021


Cable broadband subscriber growth slows while FTTx and FWA gain ground

Cable network operators (cablecos or MSOs) are losing ground to FTTP/FTTx (fiber to the premises/ cabinet/ home) and FWA (fixed wireless access).

  • Bloomberg reports that cable broadband growth is sputtering and no one knows why.
  • GlobalData agrees, but forecasts a solid increase in U.S. fixed-broadband lines.

Broadband internet subscriber growth at Comcast Corp. and Charter Communications Inc has decreased, raising concerns about an end to what has been a huge growth business, with explanations ranging from a slowdown in consumer spending to competition from phone giants.

Charter on Friday reported 25% fewer new broadband subscribers than analysts estimated and said the overall number of new customers would fall back to 2018 levels.  Charter had 1.27 million new broadband customers in 2018 compared with 2.2 million last year. Analysts predict it will add 1.4 million subscribers this year, according to estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Comcast, which had earlier cut its subscriber forecast, reported 300,000 new internet customers Thursday, less than half the number added a year ago.

Analysts were expecting some slowdown in demand coming off 2020, a year when broadband sign-ups spiked as the pandemic shifted people to working and schooling from home. Still, with Charter echoing Comcast’s gloomy picture from Thursday, suddenly there’s a chill on the cable broadband front, which became the most prized segment of the business as consumers cut traditional TV service.

Charter’s shortfall raises “questions about whether this is the beginning of the end of the cable broadband story,” said Geetha Ranganathan, an industry analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.

GlobalData forecasts that cable’s share of total U.S. fixed broadband subscriptions will decline to 67.1% by the end of 2026, from 68% in 2021, as other technologies such as fiber and fixed wireless expand their presence. Total U.S. fixed-broadband lines, including fiber, fixed wireless and cable, will increase from 103.1 million in 2021 to 112.3 million by 2026 says the market research firm.

No one has been able to identify the exact reason why the wind has gone out of the sails for big cable. Both Charter and Comcast blamed a slower new home market for some of the slack in demand, leaving the companies to try and squeeze more business out of their saturated markets.  Other factors could include a drop off in lower-paying customers as government assisted broadband funds dry up.

Even as Comcast and Charter deploy new faster network technology to attract more lucrative customers, cable’s share of the market is starting to shrink, according to Tammy Parker, a senior analyst with GlobalData.

Total U.S. broadband lines will increase to 112.3 million by the end of 2026 from 103.1 million in 2021, including new wireless internet customers, the market research firm predicts.

The number of U.S. fiber lines will grow at a CAGR of 10.8% to reach 28.2 million lines by the end of 2026. This growth will be due to rising demand for high-speed internet services in the nation, and efforts by the government and operators to expand FTTx networks.