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The Cable Guys Have Become the Internet Guys

For the first time ever, cable providers are selling more broadband subscriptions than video subscriptions.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

The cable TV business hit an important milestone last month: It turned into the Internet business.

Last quarter, for the first time ever, the biggest cable TV providers started selling more broadband subscriptions than video subscriptions, according to a new tally from Leichtman Research Group.

Not by much. The top cable guys now have 49,915,000 Internet subscribers, compared to 49,910,000 TV subscribers. And to be sure, most cable customers are getting both services.

Still, this is directionally important. The future for the pay TV guys isn’t selling you pay TV — it’s selling you access to data pipes, and pay TV will be one of the things you use those pipes for.*

This is also what animates many critics of the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable** deal: Not that the combined company will be dominant in cable TV — with 30 percent of the market — but that it will be even more dominant when it comes to broadband — with 40 percent of the market. (UPDATE: Since June, Comcast has been arguing it would only control 35 percent of the market if the Time Warner Cable deal closes).

* Some smart people suggest that the cable guys would not be unhappy if most of their business moved over to broadband instead of video, since there are much better margins — and almost no competition — for broadband.
** Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which is an investor in Re/code.

This article originally appeared on

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