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Broadband numbers show heightened demand

After a quarter marked by DSL price cuts and cable speed boosts, recently released subscriber numbers make it clear: Broadband use is surging, regardless of what form it takes.

After a quarter marked by DSL price cuts and cable speed boosts, one thing is clear: Broadband use is surging, regardless of what form it takes.

Recently released numbers from cable companies and from the Baby Bells who provide digital subscriber line access make it plain the companies are watching their broadband Net businesses flourish.

It's unclear whether aggressive price cuts by DSL providers are eating into cable's market-share lead, or whether cable's doubling of its download speed has effectively countered the price cuts. But both sides know the fight for the remaining 80 percent of U.S. homes without broadband will intensify this quarter.

"The war between cable and DSL continues to rage on for sure," said Daryl Schoolar, an analyst at In-Stat/MDR.

On Thursday, industry bellwether Comcast, the nation's largest cable network, said it added 472,000 new broadband subscribers for the quarter ended Sept. 30, a 39 percent increase from the same period last year. Comcast now has 4.9 million broadband subscribers and expects to end the year at 5.3 million, the company said.

Comcast's results come after other cable companies reported strong gains in their broadband businesses. Cox Communications on Tuesday reported similar growth numbers, saying it added 169,290 subscribers last quarter, to 1.8 million, a 38 percent jump from last year.

Time Warner Cable, a division of media giant Time Warner, reported 23 percent growth from last year but said its growth slowed from the same period last year, largely from a maturing market and competition from DSL.

Just like last quarter, the results for the Baby Bells mirrored those of the cable companies.

SBC Communications continued to be the big DSL provider on the block, adding 365,000 subscribers for a total of 3.1 million, nearly a 60 percent increase from last year. Meanwhile, Verizon Communications added 185,000 DSL lines for a total of 2.1 million, up 28 percent from the previous year. BellSouth reported 111,000 new DSL customers for a total of 1.3 million.

SBC and Verizon have been the most aggressive in slashing prices, with SBC offering monthly DSL service for $26.95 and Verizon for $29.95 for limited periods.

Cable companies offer their own broadband services for between $45 and $55 a month with faster download speeds than DSL. Some companies, such as Comcast, have also begun to experiment with discount promotions, such as offering service for $29.95 a month for the first three months.

Other cable giants, such as Charter Communications and Cablevision, and Bells such as Qwest Communications International, have yet to report their numbers.