What’s in Store for Telcos in 2010?

DFN: Gary Kim provides insights to what’s going to happen to telco’s / related industries in 2010.

Thursday, December 3, 2009
What’s in Store for Telcos in 2010?
By Gary Kim

U.S. telecommunications service providers lost about 10.5 percent of their current installed base of voice access lines in 2009, Fitch Ratings estimates. The bad news is that losses will increase to 12 percent in 2010.

The good news is that business line losses, which accelerated during 2009, will stabilize. Also, market share gains by cable competitors lessened in 2009.

But pressure from wireless substitution and weak housing starts will continue in 2010. And there is a statistical headwind as well: as the installed base of lines shrinks, the loss of any given number of lines automatically represents a bigger percentage.

Business and residential access line losses should stabilize in 2010 and continue in the range of 3 million to 3.2 million per quarter. That’s a bit better than has been the case over the last year or so. The bad news is that because the denominator (installed base) now is a smaller number, even a smaller numerator (lost lines) will result in a higher rate of loss.

Like cable companies, the growth rates for new broadband access subscribers has been slowing, and will slow further in 2010.

Fitch estimates that broadband access subscriber growth slowed in 2009 to 1.7 million net subscribers. Fitch forecasts that total broadband net subscriber additions will slow in 2010 to approximately 1.4 million. The slowing growth is reflective of higher penetration of these services and to a lesser extent a growing substitution by wireless data.

With regard to network-based video, Fitch estimates that offerings by AT&T, Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. will grow by 2 million subscribers in 2009, but this rate will likely slow in 2010 to approximately 1.5 million. The slowing growth rate reflects increasing penetration and a slowing of coverage growth as these operators enter their final phase of deployment.

Finally, business and commercial service revenue erosion peaked in first-quarter 2009 and Fitch expects the total 2009 decline to be over six percent for wireline companies with this trend the result of growing unemployment.

It is likely that the unemployment rate is near its high so Fitch believes that reductions in business and commercial revenues should be modest, in the range of one percent, in 2010.

In total, Fitch estimates that aggregate wireline revenues will decline in 2010 near the mid-single-digit range, a modest improvement over 2009. Operators with a larger growth services revenue mix should experience revenue erosion in the low single-digit range. EBITDA will similarly fall in aggregate by a low- to mid-single-digit range for the industry as benefits from headcount reductions offset losses of high-margin legacy services.


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