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Number Of Online Customers Drops 2.7 Million During Third Quarter
High Speed Access Reorganizations, Refocus Slow Growth
Dial-Up Service Category Sees Erosion
(WASHINGTON, D.C., November 15, 2001) The number of U.S.
households subscribing to online services declined nearly four percent during the third
quarter of 2001, marking the second time this year and the only two quarters ever
that there has been a decline in the number of online subscribers, according to the
findings of TRs Online Census. The survey, compiled by Telecommunications
Reports International (TRI), the leading telecommunications information publisher and a
unit of CCH INCORPORATED (CCH), found that 67.9 million U.S. customers subscribed to
online services as of the end of the third quarter of 2001, down from 70.7 million three
months prior, or a loss of 2.7 million subscribers.
Compared to figures from TRs Online Census a year ago, the current online
customer base is about 7.4 percent higher than the 63.2 million users tallied at the end
of the third quarter of 2000. However, the 3.9-percent decline for the third quarter of
2001 compares to a 1.5-percent rate of growth during the same period last year and
10.7-percent growth rate during the third quarter of 1999.
"In the 21 years that weve been surveying the online market, this is the
first year that we have seen quarterly declines in the number of users," said Amy
Fickling, managing editor of TRs Online Census. "While there were some
pockets of growth in high-speed access, this growth couldnt keep pace with the loss
of customers in other segments of the industry. And, when you look at the industry as a
whole, it may be that the home online audience has now reached its peak."
Overall, TRs Online Census found that of the six access methods tracked,
only two cable modem and digital subscriber line (DSL) showed any sizable
increases in subscribers during the third quarter. Paid dial-up service also saw a slight
gain of 2.1 percent. However, the number of subscribers to free Internet Service Provider
(ISP) services continued to nosedive as this ad-supported business model goes by the
wayside, and Internet TV, which has struggled from the start to be a viable online
alternative, lost about one-third of its overall customer base during the third quarter.
Online Growth By Category
During 3Q 2001
|Paid Dial-Up ISP
|Free ISPs (active subscribers)
|Digital Subscriber Line
|Satellite (new category)
Source: TRs Online
Telecommunications Reports International
Dial-Up Access Market Stalls
Though accounting for more than 78 percent of the overall online market, paid dial-up
service is showing signs of slowing growth, with a slight increase of just over 2 percent
for the third quarter.
One of the biggest indicators of the segments potential difficulties comes from
industry giant America Online (AOL), whose 1.2 million new users during the third quarter
represent one of the companys smallest quarterly additions of subscribers since the
spring of 1998, according to the survey. With 31.3 million subscribers, AOL has a growing
percentage of foreign accounts among the new users it reports quarterly.
MSN Internet Access, the second-largest dial-up ISP, with 6.5 million subscribers, was
the only one to report any sizable increase in subscribers during the quarter. Its
18-percent boost may be due in part to an aggressive ad campaign it began earlier this
year based on price benefits of its service, aimed at winning over AOL customers unhappy
with AOLs rate hikes.
With significant consolidation continuing in the industry, TRs Online Census
reports the five largest paid dial-up ISPs are now AOL, MSN, EarthLink, CompuServe and
The free dial-up ISP market has all but disintegrated. According to TRs Online
Census, the free ISP market had more than 14.8 million subscribers at the start of
this year. However, within the last nine months, its lost nearly 10 million
customers, down to just 4.85 million subscribers at the end of the third quarter of 2001.
United Online, which was created in late September by the merger of NetZero and Juno
Online, remains the only significant free service provider in business, with 1.25 million
paid subscribers included in its 6.1 million active users.
High-Speed Access Moves Ahead
High-speed access is the only segment of the industry showing any significant increases
in market share. DSL and cable modem combined now represent 13 percent of the overall
online consumer market, compared to around 7.5 percent of the overall market a year
earlier, according to the survey.
DSL continued to show the strongest growth, reporting a 13-percent growth rate during
the third quarter, while the number of consumers subscribing to cable modem services grew
7.7 percent, according to the survey.
However, the high-speed market was not without its problems during the third quarter as
reorganizations and refocuses dominated the landscape. Among the industry issues slowing
growth in the DSL market were Covads reorganization of its wholesale business to try
to gain customers from the recently defunct NorthPoint Communications and Rhythms
NetConnections, and the continued slow pace of DSL deployment by the local phone companies
as some, like SBC, reconsider plans of offering DSL in smaller communities.
On the cable modem front, the bankruptcy and collapse of Excite@Home shook the
industry, and has sent cable operators relying on @Home in search of alternatives for
Internet TV and Satellite Stall
The Internet TV market appears to be on its last leg, with only 812,000 subscribers
nationwide, a decline of 33.6 percent during the third quarter, according to the survey.
When MSN-TV officially reports its subscribers with the dial-up subscribers of MSN
Internet Access, the category will decline further unless AOL TV takes off.
In the satellite market, there was no significant change in subscribers as the nascent
industry continues to form. DirecTV, now being acquired by EchoStar Communications Inc.,
launched its high-speed access service, DirecTV DSL, late in the third quarter. DirecTV
DSL, formerly known as Telocity, is partnering with retailer Circuit City to sell the
residential DSL service.
To Obtain TRs Online Census
Annual subscriptions to the quarterly online census are available for $149 by calling
About TRI and CCH INCORPORATED
Telecommunications Reports International, based in Washington, D.C., is the most
respected provider of telecommunications industry news and analysis. Since 1934,
executives and policy-makers have relied on TRIs comprehensive coverage and analysis
of major industry issues and events. TRI is part of the Business and Finance Group at CCH
INCORPORATED, a leading provider of tax and business law information and software. The TRI
web site can be accessed at www.tr.com.
CCH has served more than four generations of business professionals and their clients,
covering a wide range of legal and compliance topics including securities, insurance,
banking, telecommunications, trade regulations and government contracting. CCH is a wholly
owned subsidiary of Wolters Kluwer North America. The CCH web site can be accessed at www.cch.com. The CCH Business and Finance
Group web site can be accessed at http://business.cch.com.
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EDITORS NOTE: For members of the press, a complimentary copy of TRs Online
Census is available by contacting Leslie Bonacum at 847-267-7153.