CenturyLink: We Lobby For Protectionist State Laws Because You Didn't Want Faster Fiber Anyway

from the these-are-not-the-droids-you're-looking-for dept

As we've noted, the very first place to start if we're seriously interested in fixing U.S. broadband competition problems is the protectionist laws ISPs paid to have passed in nearly two-dozen states. These laws hinder or outright ban towns and cities across the country from not only building their own broadband networks in areas ISPs refuse to serve, but they also in many cases prohibit towns and cities from cooperating with smaller private companies. These laws were passed like wild fire over a fifteen-year span, but have seen renewed attention lately as Google Fiber fuels a lust for more competition and faster, cheaper networks.

One of the biggest historical supporters of these laws is CenturyLink (formerly CenturyTel, and before that, Qwest). From suing to prevent Utah towns and cities from using Qwest poles in 2005, to teaming with Time Warner Cable to pass awful laws in the Carolinas, CenturyLink has been a starring player in making sure towns and cities can't improve their own broadband fortunes -- even in cases where companies like CenturyLink refuse to.

At the receiving end of this behavior are towns like Wilson, North Carolina, and Chattanooga, Tennessee -- both of which have tried to build better broadband networks but ran face first into the handy work of companies like Comcast, AT&T, CenturyLink and Time Warner Cable. Both towns recently petitioned the FCC (pdf), asking the agency to preempt portions of Tennessee and North Carolina state statutes that restrict their ability to provide or expand broadband services. Instead of standing up for local rights or against letting lumbering duopolies write telecom law, politicians like Martha Blackburn sided with the telecom companies, pushing laws trying to tie the FCC's hands on the matter (you know, for the rights of the little people).

While municipal broadband opponents often try to vilify these efforts as "government run amok," the reality is that these towns and cities wouldn't be trying to enter the broadband business if we had meaningful competition driving better pricing and services. In a recent New York Times story exploring these awful laws, CenturyLink feebly attempts to defend itself to the Times, insisting that it's not building faster next-generation fiber networks -- because nobody actually wants them:
"We build our network to meet customer expectations,” said Bill Hanchey, a CenturyLink regional vice president who oversees government affairs. But customers are not clamoring for the speed provided by fiber, he said. "It does us no good to go out and build networks that customers don’t need or aren't requesting."
The Times doesn't bother to challenge this assertion, and CenturyLink doesn't explain why cities and towns are trying to build better broadband if they don't want faster, better service. That customers don't want faster fiber is probably of particular note to the tens of millions of CenturyLink customers whose aging, expensive DSL lines (capped at 150 GB of usage each month, no less) struggle to reach speeds of 3-6 Mbps downstream.

Filed Under: broadband, competition, fiber, municipal broadband
Companies: centurylink


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Nov 2014 @ 8:14am

    Of course...

    Customers don't want silly motorcars, they want faster horses for their buggies...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    WDS (profile), 25 Nov 2014 @ 8:21am

    CenturyLink is Obviously Right

    It's obvious that customers don't want fiber service. That is why Google is having such problems finding any towns that will allow them to build, and trouble finding customers when they do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Nov 2014 @ 8:30am

    Unintentional truth in spokesperson

    "We build our network to meet customer expectations,” said Bill Hanchey, a CenturyLink regional vice president
    Once again, this is true, but not in the sense the spokesman tried to convey. Who here expects an incumbent telecom company to build a high quality fiber-based network? Nobody? Then CenturyLink is building exactly what you expect: too little, too late, and too slow.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously, 25 Nov 2014 @ 8:57am

    "We build our network to meet customer expectations,” goes like this:
    - First we shape the customer expectations by making faster speeds too expensive for them.
    - Second, we have proof that they do not want faster internet because they do not buy the most expensive offer.
    - Third, the last bit of "second" means no-one wants faster internet.
    - Fourth, we conclude that we cannot increase revenue by raising prices so we find some other way (caps, traffic-shaping &c.)

    Makes perfect sense for a monopolist with customers in desperate need of some regulation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Nov 2014 @ 9:03am

    Either he's that stupid and shortsighted, or just lying.

    What he said is like Nokia saying until 2007 "well people aren't asking for touchscreen phones anyway, so why should we build them?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Nov 2014 @ 9:57am

      Re:

      Actually Nokia had such a good product I wish they still made the old phones, those things are almost indestructible. Only thing that could destroy them was Chuck Norris after he was possessed by the spirit of Bruce Lee, then drunk gummiberry juice, while Freddie Mercury sang a blood rousing, fist pumping song in the background.

      P.S. I would love to see that image.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Nov 2014 @ 9:10am

    Well I know they are either lying or ignoring their customers. In my area, you usually either have Comcast or Centurylink. If you have Comcast, you can have up to 150 Mbps max. if you have Centurylink then you have 7 Mbps max if you are lucky. Everyone I know who only has Centurylink complain about how crappy their speed is and that they can't get them to bring in faster speeds. While I am not in favor of Comcast either, usually the speed you pay for is the speed you get in my area.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Nov 2014 @ 10:50am

      Re:

      between those two companies I would gladly take CenturyLink over Comcast as the lesser of two evils. I have always had better customer help experiences with CenturyLink than Comcast. Course this is not saying much

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Nov 2014 @ 2:25pm

      Re:

      ...usually the speed you pay for is the speed you get...


      Well I'm now paying almost twice as much as I did 5 years ago but my speed stayed the same for fiber. My only other choice is DSL: less expensive, but way less speed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 25 Nov 2014 @ 9:11am

    One would think...

    ...that these businesses would like to grow. Hell, if they are traded and don't grow quarter after quarter, they hear from the stock market.

    So, other than the short sighted mantra "Protectionism" (AKA: it is easier to compete when there is no competition), what do they gain by putting roadblocks in obvious paths to growth? If you build the more expensive network, then you get to charge more, and even if you keep your profit margin ratio the same, you are getting a bigger piece of a larger pie.

    Are they afraid of competing with themselves?

    Is the effort at keeping quarterly earnings on the rise so pervasive that any spending that is investment rather than dividend verboten?

    It don't make sense to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Nov 2014 @ 10:57am

      Re: One would think...

      They want to grow their profits. Growing the service base is a way to do that, but in the short term, not an efficient way to do it. Blocking municipalities is key because it is far more profitable to ignore the network upgrade requirements and raise prices than to do any improvements. In the face of competition, such a strategy will fail.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 Nov 2014 @ 7:39pm

        Re: Re: One would think...

        The problem from their side is the development in mobile connections and dual stranded, vectoring and decentral copper connections. They simply do not want to risk having to compete with these cheaper connection-types.

        Of course the current land gains in copper is limited to about 300/30 in theory and an expensive roll out with fiber all the way except max 500 meters to the customer, but that is it: They can save a few bucks short term by getting legal requirements for "last mile connection" trashed. Competition would be unbearable since it is impossible for them to see past a 5 year financial horizon and the current technology is increasing fast. It is facing a theoretical limit not far after that, but the economy stupid!

        On Wifi the competition is more problematic since 150/15 mbit is already achievable and is so much cheaper in the very expensive infrastructure department. But the current situation of Wifi is limited because of connection losses due to geographical restrictions and interferences that doesn't have an easy fix.

        In short they want to protect their investment and the best way to protect an investment in a technologically fast developing world is through monopolizing and in other ways working the political system to remove hinderances to their bottomline. The "people don't want it, don't need it", "we don't need FCC to regulate us" and "competition is already good" is just a way to protect the investment with a technology that is developing faster than they can afford to upgrade to. The astroturfing campaigns is just a technique to insulate politicians from the publics obviously negative opinion. If the opposing message gets mudded, the politicians will be more likely to help them, since they can point to the divide and conclude that the opposition is sporadic and weak.

        It is the same situation with IP since almost all commercial interests are biased towards broader coverage and security since public discussion is effectively impossible with one interest having no access to the information needed and the other using the information monopoly to control the angles on discussions among politicians.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 25 Nov 2014 @ 9:26am

    We Lobby For Protectionist State Laws because fuck you. You'll take what we give you.

    Fix'd

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Nov 2014 @ 9:49am

    I don't know what I would have done with a faster connection and more money in my pocket. Thanks CenturyLink, for keeping me from that nightmarish situation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    mcinsand, 25 Nov 2014 @ 10:03am

    customer expectations,

    >>"We build our network to meet customer expectations,”

    Wow! What a coincidence! That is exactly how my lower intestines work. They know my expectations of what their product will smell like, and that is why they don't make anything that smells like roses!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TheOldHippie (profile), 25 Nov 2014 @ 10:15am

    But here in Denver...

    CenturyLink has a big ad campaign going on touting their 1 gig fiber connection.

    "What will you do with your gig?"

    Of course they don't mention that it has extremely limited availability, and is insanely expensive and is capped.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Nov 2014 @ 10:55am

    VP Bill: Our customers expect lousy speeds for high prices and we're willing to do our best to see that it happens.

    FTFY

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tqk (profile), 25 Nov 2014 @ 11:26am

    Thanks for nothing, NY Times.

    "It does us no good to go out and build networks that customers don’t need or aren't requesting."

    How could they let that get by them without questioning it? "... don't need or aren't requesting" are such transparent lies meaning "aren't willing to pay our extortionate prices for and sign up to protection racket style multi-year contracts for them, which *is* what we're willing to give them instead."

    People can't even understand their hard copy invoices after spending hours banging their heads on them.

    Shouldn't somebody be digging into congressional records to find out which of those jerks to hang for letting this mess happen?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    GeorgeQGreg (profile), 25 Nov 2014 @ 12:03pm

    Anyone else notice?

    They're called CENTURY Link. What a shock they want to stick to 100-year-old technology.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Nov 2014 @ 1:50pm

    They're right, we don't want faster fiber. At least, not at the prices they'd want us to pay.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Nov 2014 @ 4:19pm

    I neither want to subscribe to CenturyLink, nor am I requesting that they provide services to my area. This apparently makes me one of their customers, so I guess I should expect them to start billing me monthly for not providing things I don't want.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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