Verizon has gained Federal Communications Commission approval for its $1.8 billion acquisition of XO Communications, clearing a major regulatory hurdle for a deal that will expand the telecommunication company's metro and on-net fiber as well as millimeter wave wireless spectrum holdings in several major markets. “We are pleased that the FCC has approved Verizon’s purchase of XO’s wireline business,” said Will Johnson, Verizon's senior vice-president of federal regulatory affairs. “We look forward to quickly putting XO’s fiber to work to better to serve our customers and to aid our deployment of 5G." Now that it has gotten the FCC’s green light, Verizon said it now needs state regulatory approvals in Pennsylvania and New York State.
Donald Trump's presidential victory may have gotten the support of large telecommunication companies and industry groups, but questions remain about how his policy approach will shape the telecom industry.
Donald Trump’s election comes during what has been a week of new consolidation. In just the past two weeks, three large multi-billion-dollar deals were announced that could change the landscape of the telecom industry: AT&T’s play for Time Warner; CenutryLink’s proposed acquisition of Level 3; and Windstream’s acquisition of EarthLink. While a Reuters report suggested that President-elect Trump could possibly block its acquisition of Time Warner, AT&T remains confident that it will be completed despite the new presidential administration. John Stephens, CFO of AT&T, said during the Wells Fargo technology, media and telecoms conference in New York that he and the company were looking forward to working with Trump and "optimistic" regulators would approve the deal. "[Trump's] policies had his discussions about infrastructure investment, economic development, and American innovation all fit right in with AT&T's goals," Stephens said.
Windstream may not be completely done with its Project Excel initiative, one that will bring higher speed broadband services of up to 100 Mbps over its existing copper network, but the service provider is seeing more customers take higher speeds.
Bob Gunderman, CFO of Windstream, said that customers are starting to choose the higher speeds in the markets where they are available. “We are starting to see a higher uptick in take rates for higher speeds in the excess of 50 percent,” Gunderman said. “We can see the benefits of the program starting to really impact the numbers on the of the consumer side so we’re optimistic of the benefits of Project Excel.” As of the end of the third quarter, Windstream completed 60 percent of its capital for Project Excel. In tandem with increasing broadband speeds for more consumers, Windstream continues to make progress with its IPTV roll out. The service provider filed a cable TV franchise agreement with the North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State to bring its Kinetic IPTV television service to more than 50,000 homes in August, for example.
CenturyLink-Level 3: A $34 billion deal that creates a global fiber powerhouse, threatening AT&T, Verizon
CenturyLink confirmed its $34 billion purchase of Level 3 Communications this morning, a move that will create arguably the third largest domestic enterprise service player and threaten AT&T and Verizon – two providers that have enjoyed their stance as dominant global enterprise service players for decades.
News of the acquisition comes after a report emerged that the service providers were in the final talks to merge. By purchasing Level 3, CenturyLink will get access to global providers that have established relationships with multinational companies that have assets in multiple countries. The combination would also far surpass cable’s enterprise ambitions, which have only begun as of late following their initial small- to medium-sized business play. Now that the deal has been confirmed, a number of questions linger. CenturyLink will face a large integration project of not only the physical assets, but also people. At the end of the deal, the new company may have to conduct layoffs -- a complex proposition, since CenturyLink has a large unionized workforce. Brian Washburn, service director of global Business Network and IT services for Current Analysis, said that while issues could come up, they are not impossible to overcome. “There may be concerns about the national fiber footprint (CTLK and LVLT -- with XO -- own two of the three major ULH DWDM capable national fiber footprints built in the 1990s,” Washburn said. “We might see some building address divestment, too. But I think these are both surmountable.”
Frontier’s request to the Federal Communications Commission to modify its CAF-II phase one incremental broadband deployment plans is facing a protest from Charter and Comcast, who said that the telecommunication company is asking for funds to build out broadband in areas they already serve.
Frontier initially accepted $283 million annually in CAF II support from the FCC to deploy broadband to more than 650,000 high-cost rural locations throughout its current 28-state service area. In August, Frontier submitted a list of 3,146 census blocks that it had not previously identified with its initial election. It now intends to serve those locations using Phase I incremental support. At issue are rules developed by the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau. They require that any service provider who wants subsidies to provide broadband services must complete the required certifications, and the “location in question must be eligible at the time." Charter, which entered into a number of new markets to compete with Frontier and others via its acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Communications, said in a response filing it already offers internet speeds that exceed 3 Mbps/768 Kbps in 126 of the census blocks designated by Frontier. The cable company said that it “believes that the census blocks in Exhibit A are already served by an unsubsidized competitor, and thus not eligible for Phase I support.” Comcast cited a similar situation. The cable company said that in 19 of the census blocks Frontier had identified, it “already provides broadband service at speeds exceeding 3 Mbps downstream and 768 kbps upstream as of June 2016.”
AT&T isn’t wasting any time taking a swipe at Google Fiber’s move to halt further fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) builds due to network installation costs and local ordinances that that make fiber builds a challenging prospect.
Google Fiber recently announced that it plans to halt the builds while CEO Craig Barratt will step down. What’s more, Google Fiber also plans to lay off workers in this division, but did not reveal when or how many employees will be let go. While AT&T did not directly call out Google Fiber, its recent blog post, which called out the number of markets Google Fiber serves, clearly had the service in mind. “What some of our competitors are just starting to realize (one after 6 years and only 8 metros) is that this endeavor is challenging,” said Eric Boyer, SVP of Wired and Wireless products and services for AT&T, in a blog post. “Connecting customers at scale and investing capital today in the future of connectivity is a big deal.” Boyer added that in order to build fiber into more locations, AT&T conducts community outreach in areas where it wants to build out GigaPower, rather than asking cities and towns to realign existing laws regarding utility pole attachments. “Expanding the availability of faster wired and wireless speeds begins with a conversation with cities and customers – not a checklist dictating terms or by pushing cities to enact lopsided legislation,” Boyer said.
Spirit Communications and its 11 independent incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC) partners have taken a page out of the Google Fiber playbook by launching a “GigUP South Carolina” campaign, illustrating the utility of 1 Gbps fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) services. The goal of the GigUP South Carolina campaign is to promote the advances in the state’s gigabit Internet capabilities that result from Spirit’s unique business model focused on serving the state’s telecom needs. Similar to efforts in Chattanooga (TN), a city that’s been able to attract new startups and technology talent through EPB and Comcast’s 1 Gbps service rollouts, the GigUP partnership is touting South Carolina as a hub for businesses and consumers to either locate a new business or relocate.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler’s business data services proposal is facing opposition from the Schools, Health, Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition who say that the proposal needs to regulate Ethernet pricing, a key factor for its cash-strapped constituency.
A key point of content for SHLB is that Wheeler’s proposal only applies to TDM-based services. The organization has asked the FCC to consider developing a technology-neutral regulatory construct that takes into consider IP-based Ethernet and existing TDM services. “The record evidence shows that TDM and IP services are not two separate markets -- they are substitutable services,” SHLB Coalition said in a letter to the FCC. “The very first paragraph of the Commission’s Tech Transitions Order discusses how IP-networks are replacing TDM-based networks and calls for a “technology-neutral” policy. SHLB pointed out that “Ethernet services are sometimes delivered over TDM circuits illustrates the difficulty of establishing different regulatory rules for these two technologies.” Not surprisingly, a particular concern SHLB cites is service cost, which is a major issue organizations that reside in rural markets. Schools and rural anchor institutions in rural markets often are limited to just one provider, inhibiting their choice for competitively priced services.
Chattanooga’s EPB says that while it is still limited by Tennessee law to selling 1 Gbps FTTH service within its defined borders, the municipal fiber provider is confident that growing demand for higher speed broadband could drive a change to current legislation.
Despite the legal barrier, the service provider continues to get requests from nearby towns to get their broadband service. At the same time, local incumbent telcos like AT&T have not made any moves to upgrade their facilities to offer faster speeds that consumers want. “We have a defined electric power footprint and the state of Tennessee only allows us to offer internet service within that defined electric power footprint and our answer has always been no,” said Danna Bailey, VP of corporate communications for EPB. “We’d like to serve you because Tennessee law prohibits it and it’s become a statewide issue as we hear more stories in not-always rural parts of the state who have access to little or no broadband at all.” The service provider has begun working with six other communities in Tennessee that have built out similar FTTH networks. As part of that work, the communities have continued to petition the state general assembly to get the law changed, but no progress has been made. “We haven’t been successful in working with the Tennessee general assembly to get this law changed,” Bailey said. “I expect that will come up again on the docket this winter when general assembly goes back into session.” EPB and the other communities continue to hear about more voters telling them stories about how students have to drive to a local restaurant to use Wi-Fi to complete homework assignments.
Comcast may have been one of the most vocal opponents to the fiber-to-the-home moves by Chattanooga, Tennessee-based utility EPB, but the company’s efforts over the past year to wire the city with fiber-based 2 Gbps services for residential and businesses is giving customers more choice. While Comcast has not revealed how many customers have signed up for its 2 Gbps service in Chattanooga -- a much smaller market in comparison to other ones it serves like Chicago -- its moves are a likely response to EPB’s efforts to offer the community 1 Gbps and even 10 Gbps fiber-based services.
Comcast has increased its network investments and launched new products in the city, including Gigabit Pro, Comcast’s 2-gigabit internet service, and installed hundreds of Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots in its markets. Gigabit Pro is a FTTH-based service, which requires a special installation at the home. The cable MSO has been no less aggressive on the business front. In June, Comcast Business completed a multi-million dollar fiber optic network across greater Chattanooga capable of delivering up to 10-gigabit speeds to local businesses. Even though Chattanooga is not a Tier 1 city, Comcast and even incumbent telecom AT&T are bringing better broadband into the area, responding to a competitive environment.