US Telcos Continue To Embrace Apathy As A Business Model

from the blatant-disinterest-isn't-a-strategy dept

For more than a decade we've noted how the US broadband industry's biggest problem is a lack of healthy competition. In countless markets consumers either have the choice of a terrible phone company or a cable giant. The nation's phone companies have spent the last decade refusing to upgrade (or in some cases even repair) their aging DSL lines, because they don't see residential broadband as worth their while. That, in turn, is giving giants like Comcast and Spectrum an ever greater monopoly in many markets, reducing the already muted incentive to compete on price or shore up comically terrible customer service.

While that may be great for cable companies, execs, and investors, it's not so great for consumers whose only choice of broadband is aging DSL from an apathetic telco. Instead of upgrading its customers to fiber across more than 20 states, US telco CenturyLink (recently rebranded "Lumen") announced it would be selling much of the company's copper DSL and phone network to private equity firm Apollo. Under the $7.5 billion dollar deal CenturyLink will keep the customers it actually cares about, then throw the (mostly rural) customers it doesn't care about at a private equity firm that isn't likely to upgrade them either.

Apollo, primarily famous for acquiring old newspapers, lobotomizing them, then stripping them for parts, claims it will upgrade many of these users to fiber. But that doesn't seem particularly likely given their track record, or the track record of similar deals like this, which basically involves shuffling ownership of aging DSL lines nobody wants to actually upgrade, then milking the assets until the next sale. Many of these customers have been stuck on expensive, slow DSL for the better part of fifteen years as they get shuffled from disinterested owner to disinterested owner:

"It will be interesting to see if Apollo can do better than other past forays with buying copper networks. I can’t think of one of these mega-deals where buying copper networks has gone well. I think back on the purchases by Frontier, Fairpoint, Iowa Telephone, Windstream, Citizens, and others that never panned out – and those deals were for copper that wasn't as ancient as is coming in this sale. Some of the rural customers in this sale have seen the name of the incumbent telco change several times – but they haven’t seen improvements in copper for decades."

The cycle of apathy is directly responsible for the surging interest in local community and municipal broadband networks, often run by people who actually give two flying shits about the communities they're dealing with. Of course instead of embracing those alternatives as a productive way to shore up overall broadband access (during a plague, no less), many US policymakers have instead demonized and tried to ban them.

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Filed Under: broadband, competition, dsl, rural broadband, upgrades
Companies: centurylink, lumen


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2021 @ 10:20am

    Case in point

    At my location I have only CenturyLink DSL, a whopping 5 mps, and they have stated they never plan to upgrade the neighborhood. Comcast wants $25,000 to wire my location despite providing service to all the neighbors. It's not like I'm in a hard to reach location, I'm two blocks from UCHealth and the Anschutz Medical campus in the heart of Aurora, CO. The good news is that StarLink just approved my application for it's satellite service but won't ship until late 2021. I may enter the 21st century some time this year!!

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 10 Aug 2021 @ 11:14am

    I wonder.

    What if'
    A company takes over the company, and then Asks and pays each towns Own City worker, (they are kinda bored) to build/install some new construction Inside the towns. Which should be a little cheaper then themselves doing the work, or paying another company that knows what to do.
    Even if they only install the Runs, and not the main cables, installing the Fiber would be fairly cheap after the Runs are made. Just dig and install the pipes for protection with access for repairs at points. Just 3-5 foot trench.
    The Towns know the land and everything else about where and what is underground, you dont need 2-3 other companies that have to do the evaluations at an extra cost.

    So, whats the hard part of doing all this? a little money, probably under 1/2 the price of using a company that KNows what they are doing.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2021 @ 12:20pm

    (recently rebranded "Lumen")

    I realize that they were going for a reference to the unit of luminous flux, but the older, anatomical sense of that word means the cavity within a tubular structure, say, one's colon.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2021 @ 3:11pm

    Lumen Field

    Since Century Link was the sponsor of the football / soccer stadium here in Seattle, it used to be called "Century Link Field", known by it's shortened name "The Clink"

    Now that it's called "Lumen Field", I sure hope the shortened name becomes "The Loo".

    Somebody: "Hey, want to go to The Loo with me to watch a game?"
    Somebody else: "Sure... Er.... Wait, what?"

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 10 Aug 2021 @ 5:29pm

    Love the competition!

    It's great living somewhere that there isn't a monopoly. I have a choice of AT&T DSL.

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

    • icon
      Boba Fat (profile), 10 Aug 2021 @ 8:27pm

      Re: Love the competition!

      AT&T provided DSL to the people I bought my new house from, but when I tried to get it they said "the wires are rusty or something". I have to go across town to use the internet.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 11 Aug 2021 @ 4:19pm

    Can you name

    Can you name a corp that has changed it name, Many times over the last 100 years?
    Look up where BP came from. And look up the time frames and what was happening.

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

  • icon
    Wry6read (profile), 13 Aug 2021 @ 6:31am

    Extortion thy name used to be Bell

    Greetings from South Carolina or, as it's soon to be rechristened, South ALEC. Not to be confused with Smart Alec.

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


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