Comcast reported 4Q21 and full year 2021 results today. The company’s broadband growth slowed significantly, creating an interesting comparison to competitor AT&T.
Comcast net broadband adds of 212K in 4Q21 are down over 60% from 4Q20, which saw net broadband adds of 538K. The company added a total of 1.33 million broadband subscribers in 2021, down 33% from 2020’s 1.97 million.
Slowing Comcast broadband growth in 2021 created an interesting competitive dynamic, and probably a first. Comparing AT&T’s fiber broadband growth of 271K in 4Q21 with Comcast’s broadband growth of 212K reveals that AT&T beat Comcast on net new broadband subscribers. By my math, that’s never happened before and is worth noting.
Comcast has handily been beating AT&T on broadband growth for the past few years. Keep in mind, this is just AT&T fiber growth numbers. If you include AT&T’s legacy DSL numbers, the company actually continues to lose broadband subscribers.
But AT&T has essentially moved on from DSL and the numbers that really count for the company’s broadband footprint are fiber-based. AT&T currently has just short of 6 million fiber subscribers and is on a path to reach 30 million passings by the end of 2025.
As for slowing broadband growth, Comcast put the blame on a slowing rate of move activity, among other factors. In addition to that, Comcast was on a tear with broadband growth in 2020, thanks in large part to surging demand for broadband connectivity thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. That pace of growth couldn’t last forever.
“Our net adds this quarter reflect a continuation of lower overall marketplace activity, particularly move activity, compared to historical trends,” said Comcast CFO Mike Cavanagh on today’s call. “While this resulted in lower connect volumes, it also contributed to high levels of customer retention with broadband churn improving to the lowest rate for any fourth quarter on record.”
Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts shrugged off competitive threats from fiber and fixed wireless. He noted that Comcast has been competing with fixed wireless for over three years.
“So in competition, really hasn’t been a notable shift in the competitive environment from either, you know, fiber or fixed wireless…still very competitive, you know, plenty of activity going on in terms of overbuild,” he said. “The key point is we’re growing penetration where we compete against both fiber and non-fiber.”
Roberts went on to say that DOCSIS 4.0 will be the key strategy for Comcast to compete with any service, fiber or otherwise.
“Our DOCSIS 4.0, DOCSIS game plan is a very robust one…puts us in position to deliver capacity and speeds on every application that’s out there,” he said. “We just have a different broadband product that’s better in terms of overall speed and coverage and Wi-Fi…when you pull it all together, the net of that is a ubiquitous better product.”