Windstream plans to cut broadband subscriber losses in half in 2016

Windstream has had a rough time with broadband, losing 35,000 subscribers in the past year, but the service provider says that by enhancing its last mile network it can reduce those losses and get back on a growth path.

Tony Thomas, CEO of Windstream, told investors attending the 44th Annual J.P. Morgan Global Technology, Media and Telecom Conference that the telco's move to offer speeds of up to 100 Mbps on its copper plant via VDSL2 and targeted 1 Gbps deployments will reverse that trend.

"Last year we lost 35,000 broadband customers and we'll do better than that this year," Thomas said. "We expect to cut that roughly in half in 2016 and get to roughly flat in 2017."

In November, Windstream made a bold move to upgrade its last mile copper plant to offer 50 Mbps and 100 Mbps via VDSL2 to 1 million customer locations. This was made possible through the telco's Project Excel program.

"This hasn't been in the sales forces' hands for very long, but that's a significant opportunity," Thomas said. "With Project Excel, hundreds of thousands of locations are being upgraded to the latest technology."

Thomas said that the near-term opportunity will be in migrating existing users that are stuck on 7 Mbps and slower connections.

"The opportunity we'll have in 2016 and 2017 will be upgrading those customers," Thomas said. "A lot of those customers are still on slower 6 Mbps speeds and now we are migrating those customers to 25 Mbps, 50 Mbps, 75 Mbps and 100 Mbps."

Besides Project Excel, the service provider's participation in the FCC's CAF I is still taking shape as it continues to turn on new customers who could not get broadband to their homes before.

Thomas said that Windstream is only halfway through implementing network upgrades in its rural markets via the CAF I program so "there's more upside to come" with adding more broadband subscribers.

Another factor is the CAF II program, which will extend broadband to over 400,000 locations over six years. Windstream said it expects the builds stemming from its use of CAF II funds will impact its broadband subscriber base in 2017.

"There's not going to be much benefit from CAF II this year, but that becomes part of the reason why when we pivot to 2017 we're confident we can get to flat to growing subscriber growth," Thomas said. 

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