Does Windstream’s Acquisition of PAETEC Spell ILEC Wars?

A week and a half ago, ILEC Windstream Communications announced that it would be acquiring business telecommunications company PAETEC, a current UTOPIA provider. As of yet, nothing has been said as to if that arrangement on the network will continue. As you may recall, AT&T had planned to join UTOPIA as the flagship provider until SBC purchased the company in 2005. That got called off because incumbent providers, both in the telco and cableco space, have a long-standing gentleman’s agreement to stay out of each other’s territories.¬†While Verizon and AT&T fired a few shots in some Texas suburbs a few years ago, this arrangement has continued to stand for decades. The question now is if Windstream is willing to risk competition in its own backyard to keep access to UTOPIA.

I think the answer might be yes. Business telephone companies regularly both compete with and buy wholesale services from incumbent providers. Veracity, for instance, does this all the time. This would be a rare occurrence that a company is both, and I find it highly unlikely that CenturyLink would set up shop in Windstream’s backyard (mostly because they don’t have the money, but I digress). Even with what I assume are relatively few accounts on UTOPIA, Windstream may be ready to make the calculated decision to open up an ILEC-on-ILEC war right here in Utah. It may even expand to the residential market now that the merged company is no longer focused on business accounts.

The implications are huge. If Windstream pulls it off, Verizon and AT&T, both of whom are cash-rich, may decide to start picking off bits of CenturyLink’s business. Before long, incumbent territory won’t matter anymore. UTOPIA’s open access model would be ideally positioned to capitalize on the willingness to cross the anti-competitive artificial boundaries and provide quick market access.

Broadband Bytes: 2008 Wrap-up Edition

Happy New Year! This Broadband Bytes covers from December 20 through the end of the year. The end of 2008 saw even more retransmission battles (in particular the 11th-hour showdown between Time Warner and Viacom), Qwest trying to unplug a rival that’s suing it for racketeering, and the pending launch of FTTH services in Lafayette, LA. I predict that 2009 will offer up explosive growth in broadband speeds and availability fueled by federal dollars, an increased flight of users from cable to online video streaming and continued greater-than-inflation rises in programming costs.