CenturyTel and Embarq today announced the completion of their $11.6 billion merger, which results in a phone company that will serve 7.5 million customers in 33 states. The combined company will now be known as CenturyLink — and the aging copper-based DSL lines it offers to most of its subscribers will certainly act as a link to the previous century for customers of the new entity. As part of the FCC approval for the merger, the agency imposed several conditions on the combined company, presumably to ensure that consolidation doesn’t hurt consumers.
Conditions included a requirement that the company deliver within three years 768kbps service to 90 percent of broadband customers and DSL of at least 3Mbps to 80 percent of consumers. But industry watchers feel that the FCC was sleeping on the job, given that the conditions will result in microscopic advances in service areas and broadband speeds for CenturyLink’s customers. CenturyLink’s conditions were approved by a somnolent FCC that last week gained a new chair, so perhaps the requirements demanded in the Verizon-Frontier deal will be decided upon by an agency awake to the stagnation that consolidation can mean for broadband customers, especially in rural areas.
As for expansion plans, CenturyTel has a fiber network that appears to provide backhaul mostly (but check out its on-site marketing that implies it’s an all-fiber network). According to a CenturyTel spokeswoman, the fiber network will soon “stretch from coast to coast,” but she said she’d have to get back to me on details about what percentage of the new CenturyLink customers would have fiber-to-the-node or fiber-to-the-premise. CenturyTel does provide IPTV services, which require faster speeds, and may involve a fiber-to-the-home or a fiber-to-the-node deployment in two markets — Colombia, Mo., and La Crosse, Wis. May there be more, despite a lack of FCC mandates.