Multiple System Operator

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A Multiple Systems Operator (MSO) is a company that has acquired multiple CATV systems and brought them under the control of a single corporate entity. The individual CATV systems may or may not have been combined into a single network, or may have been combined at a regional or metropolitan level.

The largest MSOs include Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Cablevision Systems, Bright House Networks LLC, Suddenlink Communications, Mediacom Communications Corporation, and Insight Communications. Each of these MSOs had in excess of one million subscribers as of June, 2007, with Comcast topping the list at over 24 million subscribers. A more complete list can be found at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA).

As of June 2007, the largest cable system operated by an MSO was in Tempe Arizona, operated by Cox Communications, with over 800,000 subscribers. This one system is larger than most MSOs. In fact, Cox has three of the five largest cable systems, including San Diego, California and Las Vegas, Nevada. A list of cable systems ranked by size can be found at the NCTA website.

A Change of Name

Increasingly, the MSOs are referring to themselves as Multiple Service Operators instead of Multiple System Operators. The change of name reflects a change in the industry. The cable companies originated as television service providers in the late 1940s. Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, this was their primary line of business. The explosion of the Internet in the mid 1990's, however, brought them into data communications services as Internet Service Providers (ISP). Then, beginning in the early 21st century, these companies began offering voice services, and even business data transport services. Today, many cable companies are true telecommunications service providers, and the line between traditional common carriers and MSOs is rapidly blurring.


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