Not Just Copper: Is CenturyLink slowly withdrawing from the residential wireline market entirely?

CenturyLinkAlmost all of our broadband heartburn comes from uncompetitive markets. Even in areas with at least two wireline competitors (which is only about 95% of the urbanized Wasatch Front), you’re usually stuck picking between faster speeds from Comcast and cheaper speeds from CenturyLink. I’ve already written that it’s looking like CenturyLink is going to let copper die without a replacement, but it’s entirely possible they just want to get out of the residential market entirely. This would be a nightmare for competitive choice in our state.

Do you remember the last time CenturyLink upgraded their ADSL2+ product? I do; it was 2009. The year before, they stopped doing FTTN deployments entirely, occasionally lighting a new FTTN node here or there. Most of the Wasatch Front is still limited to 7Mbps ADSL with real-world performance usually coming in much less than that. I know people in Sandy that struggle to squeeze 3Mbps out of that aging copper. It makes CenturyLink’s claims of doing their own gigabit fiber seem pretty hollow and underscores that their main purpose in deploying FTTN may have been to try clubbing competitors in the kneecaps.

Just look at how CenturyLink has been not responding to competitive threats. In Provo, Comcast very quickly pushed their system to its absolute limits with a 250Mbps/50Mbps tier that price-matches Google. What did CenturyLink do? Nothing. They haven’t uttered a single word about doing any kind of upgrades in Provo at all. Who can blame them? It would cost them tens of millions of dollars to go after a customer base that hates them. The ROI would be so far out as to be disastrous. It’s noteworthy that the only places CenturyLink has announced doing FTTH have been duopoly markets, places with a more-or-less captive customer base. Given their non-response to Veracity rolling their own ADSL2+ using CenturyLink cabinets, this isn’t too surprising.

At the same time, CenturyLink has been chasing down deals to build fiber to cell towers and focusing heavily on their business services through acquisitions like Savvis. These premium services command much greater profit margins and more stable user bases than residential markets, plus they can easily convince businesses to pay the full cost of installing the latest technology. Even when the fiber to cell towers goes into residential areas, CenturyLink has been noncommittal about using it to upgrade DSL users to better speeds or technologies. It seems very strange to not want to use the investment to upgrade other services. I’d usually say they just don’t have the money, but they just approved spending $1B on a stock buyback program, money that would deploy gigabit fiber to as many as 1M homes and businesses.

This all paints a very disturbing picture for the future of telecommunications where open access systems like UTOPIA aren’t or won’t be available: Comcast will be the only real ISP for most users, and cities who go with Google Fiber will be right back into the “fast vs cheap” duopoly they hate so much right now. This is one of the many reasons why I’ve been so sour on both Provo and Salt Lake City for going with Google instead of fixing the underlying anticompetitive problems in the telecommunications space. Why would you expect Google to be any better than Comcast when they no longer really have to work for your business?

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7 Responses to Not Just Copper: Is CenturyLink slowly withdrawing from the residential wireline market entirely?

  1. Pingback: Comcast has been holding out on us, but it’s out of tricks up its sleeve - Free UTOPIA!

  2. Mike says:

    You keep referring to CenturyLink not installing ADSL2+ but that is because it is old technology. CenturyLink has been installing VDSL2 upgrades in many areas and they are using this newer technology to provide speeds at up to 40 Mbit/sec. They also launched Gigabit fiber to Las Vegas this year.

    • Jesse says:

      Quite the nitpick. Fine, I’ll spell it out another way: CenturyLink hasn’t done any substantial deployments of ANY FTTN technology for many years, nor have they upgraded speeds. And show me a single gigabit FTTH customer they’ve hooked up. I’ll wait. (Spoiler alert: they’ll be making limited deployments in wealthier neighborhoods and areas with cable TV plants only. You and me are unlikely to ever seen that service.)

  3. Mike says:

    Actually I just did a search on and Jesse your house at 1120 Violet Drive qualifies for 40 Mbit/sec DSL from CenturyLink for $19.95 for the first year. Judging from Google maps your house is not exactly in a “rich” neighborhood. Now if you actually took advantage of 40 Mbps from CenturyLink, you’d notice that the modem will train at 50 Mbit/sec and it is using VDSL2 technology. So CenturyLink actually is ensuring my speed is faster than what I am paying for!
    Now I have to laugh at all these phone company haters because I have worked in tech a long time. When I first got DSL at my house from US West to replace my dial-up modem, the speed was 256K, then I remember upgrading every time the technology improved, to 768K, later to 1.5M, then on Qwest it jumped to 3M, 12M, then on CeturyLink it jumped to 20M, and now 40M. So my DSL is 160X faster than when I started as a customer. I have 5 kids and a wife who can all stream video on their devices at the same time with no issues! In fact I did some searching on the government broadband website and CenturyLink provides speeds of 20M or 40M to millions of residents. Why all the hate Jesse? I would love it if I could buy a truck that gets 160 times more MPG, but at least CenturyLink continues to make improvements in many neighborhoods without burdening the taxpayers.

    • Jesse says:

      Really, Mike? I mean, REALLY? My home address isn’t hard to find, but publishing it and disparaging my socioeconomic status? I’m leaving your unedited comment up because it really does make you look bad.

      Yes, CenturyLink offers 40Mbps connections here, a speed that hasn’t budged in 5-6 years. During that time, Comcast has gone up to 105Mbps in my neighborhood. CenturyLink still doesn’t offer anything beyond vanilla DSL for much of Salt Lake City, West Valley City, Holladay, Sandy, Draper, Riverton, West Jordan… the list goes on. (Seriously, go load up the Utah Broadband Map before you embarrass yourself further.) The point isn’t “I got mine”; it’s that CenturyLink is not, will not, and cannot upgrade residential service to keep with the times.

      As far as your pricing argument, it’s complete bunk. $20 is the BUNDLE price and an intro rate. (Coincidentally, Comcast offers the same pricing for new customers.) An Internet-only user like me would have to pay $30 for a year… and then go up to $70/mo, what I pay Comcast for a 50M/10M connection. CenturyLink is only 40M/5M. Tell me again about how much value I’d be getting?

      At this point, I can only conclude that you’re a CenturyLink employee. Maybe you’d like to share your employer and home address with the rest of the class?

      • Greg says:

        Not to mention, I’ve never seen Century Link ever hit their advertised speeds. The one time (and last time) I had century link (DSL) they were offering 20Mbps, and I got less than 8 (.98 MB transfer speed) at the most; my average was around 5 Mbit. I went to comcast who advertised a 25 Mbit speed, and I constantly got closer to 50. It wasn’t Century Link at the time (Qwest), but the truth is, I’d never give them another chance because they screwed it up so bad the first time. Now, I’m just hoping for the Macquarie deal to work out and for Midvale to finish building out the Fiber network.

  4. Matt Clement says:

    Here in Ponder Texas CenturyLink has stopped offering DSL for new and returning customers. I have heard that they have under built there system and have stopped taking new/returning customers orders.

    I was going to switch to fixed wireless but CenturyLink customer support said that If I discontinue service then I cannot reinstate service.

    CenturyLink has the fiber laid from previous provider (Sprint Local) but never finished. I was told that the cost to implement service was to much based on number of current subscribers.

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