Cable One is ‘dancing with the regulatory devil’ on price increases, analyst says

Cable One installer

Somewhat lost amid the flurry of news and analysis stemming from the U.S. cable industry’s latest round of quarterly earnings reports: executives at larger cable companies are concerned that No. 10 operator Cable One and its “relentless price increases” will catch the eye of federal regulators 

“What’s really complicated is the politics of their relentless price increases,” Moffett said in a note to investors. “The very mention of Cable One draws genuine anger—yes, really—from executives at their larger peers. Cable One is dancing with the devil, they would argue, by so unabashedly testing the limits of the pricing power of their broadband product.

Of course, a lot of unabashed things are going on right now without the federal government doing a thing about it. And it’s tough to imagine anyone at Comcast or Charter getting worked up, given that new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai doesn’t seem interested in regulating anything. 

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Of course, as the last 12 months have proven, regulatory winds shift fast, and Cable One does seem to be conspicuously bereft of competition from Fios or U-verse, serving around 700,000 customers in tightly clustered regions in Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Nebraska.

“Never mind that the per capita income in Cable One’s footprint is the lowest (by far) of the companies we cover, or that the percentage of customers living below the poverty line is the highest (also by far),” Moffett wrote. “What matters is that there is very little competition in Cable One’s footprint. If you want high speed broadband, where else are you going to go?

“But it is that very argument that makes other cable executives so uneasy about the Cable One model,” the analyst added. “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. The unspoken fear among their larger peers is that over-reliance on broadband pricing invites regulatory intervention, not just for Cable One, but for everyone.”

Notably, Cable One denies the assertion that it’s residential high-speed data services are riding in price quickly. 

“When it comes to the data side, we haven't had a rate adjustment. Well actually, we've had one in five and a half years now,” said Cable One CEO Julia Laulis during the company’s first-quarter earnings call last week. 

“Our standard service which is 100 meg is $55,” Laulis added. “If you lease the modem from us—and that's a choice of the customers—it’s $8 more a month. And [the modem lease price is now] included  at no additional cost in our beautiful Wi-Fi One [Wi-Fi optimization] service. So, I think that our goal is to keep that price point steady for as long as we can. We think it's a great value and that's what we are trying to present to our markets.”