Dexter Goei, Altice USA's outgoing CEO, continues to staunchly defend the company's decision to upgrade large swaths of its network to fiber, holding that the product and business performance of the move make dollars and sense.
"This right thing to do was to future-proof the network" both in Altice USA's Optimum footprint in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and in the more rural Suddenlink footprint, Goei said Tuesday at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia & Technology Conference. "Future-proofing our network is our thesis."
Altice USA's current plan is to upgrade about 6.5 million passings to fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) by 2025 and back that up with multi-gigabit speeds, which Altice USA has begun to soft-launch in parts of its fiber upgrade areas.
Fiber metrics top HFC
Goei said Altice USA is sticking with the fiber upgrade plan, noting that the cost to serve homes with fiber compared to those on a hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) connection has come "down dramatically."
The average revenues per user (ARPU) on Altice USA's fiber-based products are 7% to 8% higher than ARPU on cable-based services, he said. Additionally, churn rates on fiber services are also coming in about 6% to 8% lower than on HFC, and the NPS (net promoter score) for the fiber product is also coming in higher.
"Every single metric that you can imagine – that you would anticipate – are better" on the fiber product, Goei said. He acknowledged, however, that the installation process for fiber customers getting a triple-play bundle that includes pay-TV and voice could be better.
As for Altice USA's fiber network build update, the company finished almost 270,000 new homes in the second quarter of 2022, a record the company expects to beat in Q3 and, weather permitting, in Q4.
For 2022, Altice USA expects to complete an additional 1 million fiber passings, with 1.2 million as its "stretch target." That will put Altice USA in a position to end the year with 2.2 million to 2.3 million homes passed with fiber.
In 2023, Goei said Altice USA expects to ratchet up the build to 1.6 million to 1.8 million homes passed as the operator starts to push fiber upgrades into the Suddenlink footprint.
Altice USA is also doing edge-out builds to areas adjacent to existing facilities and pursuing grants for fiber builds in underserved and unserved areas. Altice USA has won grants or subsidies covering 40,000 to 45,000 homes, a number that Goei predicts could rise to about 200,000 in the next 12 to 24 months.
Altice USA, which has been fielding M&A inquiries about the Suddenlink properties, believes its fiber focus will set the stage for a return to broadband subscriber growth as early as Q4 2022, and certainly by sometime in 2023.
Goei said 80% of gross broadband subscriber adds in fiber areas take a fiber-based service. Though Altice USA is trying to convert HFC customers to fiber proactively, exceptions include customers who want to keep their existing setup or who are in homes and locations where a landlord won't allow a new fiber drop.
Mobile stays steady
Goei touched briefly on Altice USA's Optimum Mobile product, which is supported by an MVNO deal with T-Mobile. He agreed that there are benefits to bundling mobile with home broadband but lamented that mobile EBIDTA is challenged by "thin margins" being driven by a mobile marketplace that's seeing falling ARPU and rising levels of promotions.
With that backdrop, Altice USA expects to market fiber more aggressively than mobile this year and into 2023. "For the balance of this year, I don't think you should expect real big waves in the mobile product," Goei said.
Goei also offered some additional commentary on the recent announcement that he will be stepping down as CEO to become executive chairman of the board. Comcast exec Dennis Mathew has been tapped to take the CEO slot effective October 3.
Goei reiterated that he is shifting gears for personal reasons, as he and his family want to return to Europe. He said he informed the board of his decision about a year ago. Altice USA started its CEO search roughly six months ago.
In his new role, Goei said he will focus on "large strategic stuff" and external elements such as government affairs and conversations with the financial community, so that Mathew can focus squarely on operations.
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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading