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Comcast eyes AT&T's American broadband crown

Pulled up by its VoIP straps

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Comcast is on the verge of surpassing AT&T as America's number one broadband provider.

In releasing its Q3 earnings today, the cableco boasted 382,000 new broadband subscribers for the quarter ending September 30 - more additions than AT&T and Verizon combined. That gives Comcast 14.7 million broadband subscribers in total, just 100,000 less than AT&T.

Two-thirds of those 382,000 new subscribers are cable converts from DSL - the phone-line-based broadband technology that AT&T and Verizon are slowly replacing with high-speed fiber connections.

Apparently, Comcast is out-pacing its rivals in the so-called "triple play" game, in which comm giants attempt to destroy each other by bundling voice, data, and TV in a single package. Though Comcast lost 4,000 circuit-switched phone subscribers during Q3 - as it phases out old school phone service - the cableco added 483,000 voice over IP subscribers. That means its fledgling phone service is growing faster than the fledgling fiber TV services offered by the traditional telcos. At least for now.

Like AT&T and Verizon, Comcast is holding up quite well as the worldwide economy melts away. Q3 earnings jumped 38 per cent from a year ago, as it beefed up its cable TV rates and dropped spending.

"We delivered solid results in the third quarter, demonstrating the underlying strength of our subscription businesses and our ability to operate well in a challenging economic and competitive environment," reads a canned statement from chairman and CEO Brian L. Roberts. "Importantly, our financial position has never been stronger, reflecting disciplined and prudent balance sheet management and strong free cash flow growth."

The company earned $771m in Q3, or 26 cents per share, on $8.55bn in revenues. The Wall Street guessmen were expecting profits of 22 per cents a share, but Comcast shares still tumbled. Its stock was down 9.91 per cent when the NASDAQ closed for the day.

That said, shares climbed 24 per cent the day before, as Wall Street decided to push the market up.

Last week, Comcast announced that it rolling out wideband DOCSIS 3.0 service in New England, Philadelphia, and New Jersey, and it expects the technology will be available in 10 major markets by the end of the year. Sometime before year's end, the company will also stop busting BitTorrents. ®

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