AT&T's U-Verse Universe Expands to 10.7M Subs

Telco Adds 194K TV, 630K Broadband Subs, Sheds 807,000 Wireline Voice Subs

Comcast pulled off a rare feat when it added 46,000 video subs in the fourth quarter of 2013, but that total was dwarfed by the video numbers posted by rival AT&T.

AT&T added 194,000 U-verse TV subs in the fourth quarter and 924,000 for all of 2013, extending its TV total to 5.5 million. And the telco didn’t miss the opportunity to boast about it.

“Some companies are excited about actually gaining customers; we added almost 200,000 subscribers in the quarter and nearly 1 million for the year, plus we had our lowest TV churn ever in the fourth quarter,” AT&T CFO John Stephens said on the company’s earnings call Tuesday.

AT&T also added 630,000 U-verse broadband subs in the period, giving it a record of 2.7 million adds for the year, and broadening its  grand total in the category of 10.4 million. With traditional DSL losses factored in, AT&T lost 2,000 net broadband subs in the fourth quarter, but managed to gain 35,000 broadband subs for the full year, ending 2013 with 16.42 million.

At year-end, 63% of all AT&T wireline broadband subs were on U-verse, versus 47% in the year-ago quarter. About 59% of all U-verse broadband subs were taking a tier of at least 12 Mbps (downstream).

“We believe we have [reached] a tipping point with U-verse broadband with the growing base of U-verse subscribers we feel confident that we can grow broadband subscribers even stronger this coming year,” Stephens said.

AT&T ended 2013 with 10.7 million total U-verse subs (TV and broadband).

Wireline voice was again a significant sore spot, as AT&T lost 807,000 subs in that category in the quarter, and lost 3.6 million for the full year, shrinking its grand total to 28.48 million.

On the wireless front, AT&T added 809,000 wireless subscribers, down from 1.09 million in the year ago quarter, ending 2013 with 110.3 million. The company shed 32,000 pre-paid wireless subs, blaming the bulk of that on tablet-related losses, but believes its pending acquisition of Leap Wireless, which runs the Cricket brand, will help give AT&T a big boost in the category.

Company CEO and chairman Randall said AT&T is closing in on getting LTE deployed to 300 million people, putting it in position to handily beat where it forecasted it would be by the end of 2014. “We expect to be essentially done by summer,” he said of the network rollout.

AT&T posted fourth quarter earnings of $6.9 billion ($1.31 per share) on total revenues of $33.1 billion, up 2% year-over-year. Wireline revenues were $14.7 billion, down 1.4%, while total U-verse-related revenues grew 27.9%.

AT&T CEO: Net Neutrality Decision Changes Nothing

Stephenson said a court’s recent decision to vacate much of the FCC's Open Internet Order “really changed nothing” in terms of how the telco will conduct broadband operations.

And that goes for AT&T’s recently announced sponsored data service, a controversial plan that allows mobile users to gobble up data without it counting against monthly usage caps.

“We can’t find that [the plan] violates anybody’s net neutrality rules…It's perfectly volunteer; it's opened to any company that might want to do this,” he said, adding later: “Stay tuned, but I don’t see the court ruling on net neutrality changing anything in terms of how we operate or most anybody else in the industry for that matter.”