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Cable MSOs Still Dominant in U.S. Broadband

Consumers of broadband services in the U.S. are apparently confused by the telco's shifting marketing strategy. DSL was previously viewed as the 'low-price leader,' but recent price increases and the elimination of some promotional offers may have driven prospective customers to the cable multi-system operators (MSO).

DSL services from U.S. telcos continues to challenge the MSO's dominant market share for broadband high-speed data (HSD) subscribers, but a Kagan Research survey shows in the third quarter of 2006 cable operators actually made gains in the battle to capture new customers.

According to Kagan, DSL corralled 51 percent of net subscriber ads for the three months ended September 30, compared to 56 percent in Q2, with HSD cable modems taking the 49 percent balance of Q3's 2.7 million total net adds.

"One good quarter alone does not establish a firm trend," notes Kagan senior analyst Ian Olgeirson. "But the cable industry's focus on bandwidth increases -- coupled with the positive impact of its $99 triple-play bundle -- will likely contribute to the industry's rebound in market share."

DSL had been growing much faster by appealing to price-sensitive laggard dial-up Internet access subscribers migrating to broadband. Cable modem service averages nearly $40/month while DSL is just over $35/month. However, both of these U.S. price points are still significantly higher than similar broadband service offerings in the leading Asia-Pacific and European markets that have greater competition.

HSD access penetration stood at 59 percent of total U.S. Internet households at the start of the year, according to Kagan. The U.S. telcos are rolling out all fiber-optic infrastructure for improved high-speed service, but fiber-to-the-home is a gradual introduction with only small patches of geographic coverage.

At Q3 2006, U.S. telco Verizon had a total of just 522,000 HSD subscribers for its FiOS fiber-based services -- versus the nearly 30 million total cable modem subscribers and 23.6 million total DSL subscribers.

The cable industry is marketing HSD, TV and voice services in the so-called triple play bundle over a wide geographic area, grabbing market share by spreading discounts across its three offerings. Moreover, there doesn't appear to be any meaningful policies coming from the FCC that will likely affect the current duopoly 'status quo' within the U.S. market.

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