Suddenlink FTTH push might not reach California

1 December 2016 by Steve Blum
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Most of Suddenlink is somewhere other than California.

Altice, the fourth largest cable operator in the U.S., plans to leapfrog DOCSIS 3.1 coaxial cable upgrades and go straight to fiber. At least in some of the markets it serves. Yesterday, the company announced its intention to build “a next-generation fiber-to-the-home network capable of delivering broadband speeds of up to 10 Gbps across its footprint”. Sorta. It qualified that promise by saying it “expects to reach all of its Optimum footprint and most of its Suddenlink footprint” within five years.

The question is whether that wiggle room could exclude California. There’s reason to think it might.

Altice took over the Optimum brand when it bought Cablevision, a cable operator that’s largely concentrated in the northeast U.S. – it’s not a player in California. Suddenlink is the other cable company it acquired last year, and that footprint includes a scattering of largely rural markets across California, as well as systems in much larger markets such as Dallas and San Antonio. Technically, “most” could mean anything from 51% on up, but even if you assume it means 80% or 90%, that’s still enough room to wiggle out of California, which Suddenlink used to refer to as “elsewhere”.

Another factor to consider is that Altice is investing in FTTH to counter the competition it faces from Verizon’s FiOS systems. Again, those tend to be concentrated in the northeast. There are some FiOS systems in California that were formerly owned by Verizon and now belong to Frontier Communications, but none of those are in Suddenlink’s territory. Competitive pressure is not going to be pushing Altice’s upgrade capital in California’s direction.

That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, though. A key resource for any FTTH upgrade is the availability of affordable and accessible middle mile fiber. Suddenlink has already taken advantage of the Digital 395 project in eastern California and several of its systems sit on or near other major fiber routes. Altice says it’ll start announcing its rollout markets schedule “in the coming months”.