From Comcast to Hawaiian Telcom: Tracking the top 16 residential broadband service providers in Q4 2017

In our quarterly report, FierceTelecom is tracking how the top 16 service providers fared in the broadband race. (Image: Getty/cosinart)

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 fourth 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 fourth quarter.

Also, be sure to check out to see how the results compare to our report from the third quarter of 2017 and 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 16 providers had as of the end of the quarter. Like earlier quarters, cable continues to enjoy a nice lead in the broadband addition race, a factor related to MSOs ongoing DOCSIS 3.1 build outs.

The top cable operators added a total of 868,000 new broadband subscribers. Telcos, alternatively, reported that they had a total of broadband subscribers as of the end of the quarter.

Broadband additions, losses: 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. 

According to LRG Research’s latest report, the top cable MSOs added 2.7 million broadband subscribers in 2017. Within this group, Comcast has added over a million broadband subscribers each year from 2010-2017 while Charter has added over a million broadband subscribers each year from 2014-2017.

Led by Comcast and Charter, several of the largest cable MSOs saw sizeable broadband gains during the fourth quarter. Comcast by far had the largest gain with 350,000 new subscribers followed by Charter with 263,000 subscribers. Despite Charter’s strong gain, its subscriber gains were lower than the 357,000 added in the fourth quarter of 2016.

Other cable operators, including Altice USA, Mediacom and Cable One also saw decent quarterly gains. By acquiring New Wave, Cable One’s residential HSI business has 584,854 subscribers, representing 24.7% growth during the quarter. 

Alternatively, the top telcos lost about 625,000 subscribers in 2016a trend LRG says is similar to a loss of about 600,000 subscribers in 2016.

AT&T and Verizon reported that they gained 600,000 IP broadband customers and 47,000 Fios FTTH customers, but lost legacy DSL subscribers during the third quarter. CenturyLink followed closely behind, losing 90,000 subscribers in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile Frontier Communications bled an additional 62,000 subscribers—an improvement over the second quarter.

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

Top U.S. Wireline Broadband Carrier Metrics Q4 2017      
(Ranking by total subscribers, losses/gains, revenue)      
Service provider Total subs Subs added/lost Broadband revenue
1. Comcast 22.8M 350K $3.48B
2. Charter 22.5M 263K $3.64B
3. AT&T 14.3M 95K* $1.89B
4. Verizon  12M 47K $2.76B
5. CenturyLink 5.7M (90K) $688M
6. Cox Communications** 4.9M 90K (not reported)
7. Frontier  3.94M (62K) $939M
8. Altice USA 4.05M 59K $676M
9. Mediacom 1.21M 47K $171M
10. Windstream 1.01M (10.8K) $481.8M***
11. WOW! 733K 2.7K $227M
12. Cable One 585K 109K**** $415M
13. Consolidated 784K (-263) $63.4M
14.TDS Telecom  382K 8K $123M******
15. Cincinnati Bell 227K 5K $88.3M
16. Hawaiian Telcom
92K 794 $27M

We tracked 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 76K DSL subs

** according to LRG Research estimates

*** Total consumer revenue

**** from New Wave acquisition

***** includes cable, telco results