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Consolidated expands fiber and gigabit rollout

Like many other competitive US broadband and video providers, Consolidated Communications is now on a fiber rollout binge and is starting to reap the rewards.

Consolidated, which passes more than 2.7 million homes and businesses in less populated areas across a sprawling 23-state footprint, reported last week that it had upgraded its networks to pass another 76,000 homes with fiber-fueled gigabit service in Q2 2021. That boosted its fiber upgrade total to 122,000 locations for the year and 397,000 locations overall as it seeks to enhance its competitive position against such major cable operators as Comcast and Charter Communications in its regions.

Even with the upgrades, only 14% of the locations in Consolidated's footprint can get symmetrical 1-Gig service over fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) networks today. That means the vast majority of its nearly 400,000 consumer broadband subscribers must still contend with outdated DSL service that doesn't offer speeds above 100 Mbit/s.

But Consolidated executives aim to change all that. Their ambitious network upgrade plan entails more than doubling their FTTP reach to 300,000 locations by year-end and converting more than 70% of their entire footprint to all-fiber by 2025. The five-year strategy also involves upgrading from GPON to XGS-PON technology to deliver symmetrical speeds as fast as 10 Gbit/s to broadband subscribers.

"Fiber is really future-proof," said Erik Garr, who recently joined Consolidated as executive VP of the overall company and president of its consumer/SMB business unit. "We don't know anything faster."

Consolidated is pitching its 1-Gig service to subscribers for $70 a month. Although it has not spelled out when it will increase speeds to 10 Gbit/s, Garr said the operator will deploy XGS-PON wherever it upgrades its networks to FTTP, enabling it to increase speeds whenever it wants

"As we roll out more XGS-PON, we'll roll out 1-Gig," Garr said. "We'll increase speeds as we customer demand [for it] increase."

Riding this network upgrade wave, Consolidated added slightly over 3,000 fiber subscribers in Q2, boosting its gain for the year to nearly 7,000 so far. The operator closed June with almost 62,000 fiber subs, up 13% from a year ago, along with its 332,000 DSL customers.

Thanks largely to the fiber sub adds, Consolidated reported that consumer broadband revenue climbed by 3.7%, or $2.4 million, in the quarter to nearly $68 million. That gain neatly offset a $2.4 million drop in video services revenue, which fell to $16.8 million as the operator continued to shed legacy pay-TV subscribers while transitioning to offering mainly streaming video over broadband connections.

Consolidated concluded the spring quarter with just under 71,000 video subscribers, down 4% from its Q1 total and down 12% on a year-over-year basis.

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— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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