UScellular: No price hikes with us

AT&T earlier this week said it’s raising prices on some older mobile phone plans, but UScellular says it’s not going to raise prices for its postpaid or prepaid customers through 2023.

“From now through at least December 31, 2023, UScellular has committed to not increase the price on customers’ rate plans, no matter what plan they are on,” the company said on Friday.

Customers don’t need to take any action for it to be in effect.

“Our customers have enough on their minds, and they shouldn’t need to worry about their wireless rates going up. Whether they’re a brand-new customer or have been one for years, their rate plan will not increase,” said UScellular President and CEO Laurent “LT” Therivel in a statement. “We are committed to being transparent with our customers, and we want them to have peace of mind knowing that if they don’t want to make a change, we won’t change a thing.”

Noting that hardships caused by the pandemic are far from over, UScellular said it also continues to help eligible families and households pay for internet service through the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).  

During the company’s earnings call on Friday, Therivel noted that telecom is relatively insulated from inflation, but if UScellular ends up seeing really high levels of inflation, it has the flexibility to raise prices on new customers or it can require new rate plans for device promotions.

“We still have flexibility to adjust, if we need to, but we think it's the right thing for customers,” he said, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript. “We think it will be very attractive for bringing down churn. We also have a couple of other plans that we're going to be rolling out later in the quarter to address the churn problem. So I'm optimistic in our ability to address churn while we continue to improve gross adds.”

UScellular reported net losses of 44,000 postpaid subscribers in the first quarter of 2022. ARPU was $49.71; postpaid churn was 1.10%.

So far, 34% of UScellular’s subscribers have 5G-capable devices, Therivel said.

FWA spectrum  

Last month, UScellular launched fixed wireless access (FWA) in 10 markets using millimeter wave spectrum. It’s marketing speeds of 300 Mbps, but that’s relatively conservative in terms of the actual experience it can provide, he said.

The company also can apply some operational lessons from the rollout of its low-band product, which performs well in rural areas where DSL or satellite are primary competitors, he said. It’s now serving more than 60,000 customers with that product, he said. It will be bringing mid-band spectrum online, C-band and 3.45 GHz, with plans on using that to support fixed wireless.

UScellular isn’t currently separating out its fixed wireless customer numbers; they’re included in the total for connected devices.

“Substantially all of our fixed wireless access customers are low-band 4G customers,” said UScellular CFO Doug Chambers.

As of the end of the first quarter 2022, UScellular had a total of 4,335,000 postpaid customers.