Meanwhile, new competitors are looking more and more like old-line utilities (and could, in theory, structure dividends accordingly in the future). Amazon and Google are pushing more aggressively into data services that could create a steady income stream. Amazon is the dominant player in cloud computing with its 450,000 servers that store and manage data for thousands of companies. Google is starting to offer super-high speed 1 gigabit Internet and television service that is 10 times as fast as existing broadband, though it's limited to a few communities and termed "experimental."
Alternately, over the longer term, existing dividends at telecom and cable firms could be threatened as new technology challenges their networks. Competitive threats could also come through mergers like the one proposed by Dish for Sprint, which could create a big new player in the integrated broadband world. But longer-term, the big data retailers could confront the old problem faced by anyone in the tech world. For now, they offer the both income and growth, Cassese says.
"They are becoming like a utility, yields are growing over time for the high-quality companies, and dividends are playing bigger role," says Cassese. "Individual investors are having a difficult time finding yield. This is a very good place to be focused."