U.S. Broadband Growth Slows As the Profit Party Grinds To A Halt
from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept
For years we’ve watched major cable TV providers lose traditional cable TV subscribers hand over fist to cheaper, more flexible streaming alternatives. It was a trend that only accelerated during COVID. Don’t feel too badly for companies like Charter and Comcast however; the companies’ growing monopoly over faster fixed-line broadband across huge swaths of the country have allowed them to recoup their pound of flesh via broadband fees (or unnecessary usage caps) without much in the way of repercussion.
But there’s signs that the cable broadband party could be slowing down. Both Comcast and Charter (Spectrum) reported the usual number of cable TV subscriber losses, but also reported significantly fewer broadband subscribers than usual:
“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. Comcast, which had earlier cut its subscriber forecast, reported 300,000 new internet customers Thursday, less than half the number added a year ago.”
What’s the reason for the slowdown? For one thing, the COVID telecommuting boom had artificially been boosting subscriber uptick as people struggled to work and learn from home. That’s ending as people return to something vaguely resembling normal school and work life. Charter and Comcast largely blame a slow down in the new home market, leaving them trying to wring more subscribers out of a fairly saturated subscriber base (they often don’t want to expand into new, often more rural areas because it’s not profitable enough, quickly enough, for Wall Street).
Consumers also struggling during the pandemic aren’t spending as much on services, which means downgrades to slower tiers, or cancelling service altogether and going cell phone only:
“Other factors could include a dropoff in lower-paying customers as government assisted broadband funds dry up. ?There?s clearly softness in consumer spending,? said Maribel Lopez with Lopez Research. ?They are making choices on tiers and downgrading services.?
This is where it gets interesting. With a saturated market and slowing growth, cable giants like Comcast will be forced to find a revenue boost from somewhere else to satisfy the insatiable appetite for quarter over quarter growth. Streaming isn’t going quite as they planned (Comcast took a $520 million loss on its streaming service Peacock last quarter) due to intense competition. That means increased pressure to do a lot of the dodgy shit (arbitrary usage caps, overage fees, prioritizing certain services over others) that got them in trouble in the net neutrality wars.
With the FCC effectively crippled courtesy of the Trump administration, and Comcast lobbyists busy trying to scuttle Biden appointments to mire the agency in perpetual gridlock, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Comcast and Charter come up with some aggressively idiotic new nickel-and-dime money making scheme in the next year. When a monopoly’s growth gets restricted and Wall Street grows impatient for its blood sacrifice, there’s almost always one person who winds up paying the price: the consumer. Especially when there’s neither competition nor competent regulators capable of reining in the monopoly’s worst impulses.