AUSWR
The Association of U S West Retirees
 

 

 

Qwest, CenturyLink to spend $50M for state broadband

Advocates, competitors criticize deal

 

By Leslie Brooks Suzukamo
TwinCities.Com

Monday, October 4, 2010


To win approval for Century-Link's $10.5 billion takeover of Qwest Communications International, the two companies have agreed with state regulators to spend $50 million over five years to expand broadband infrastructure in Minnesota.

The two phone companies also agreed Monday in a filing to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission that for two years after the deal closes, they will make no changes to how Qwest handles lines leased to competing phone companies.

Qwest spokeswoman Joanna Hjelmeland called the broadband commitment "significant," but some broadband advocates and competing telephone providers expressed disappointment with the agreement forged with the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

"If they're not spending at least $10 million a year on broadband, it's no wonder they're getting their clocks cleaned" by cable competitors, said Christopher Mitchell of the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit organization that favors local government ownership of broadband.

But considering that the Commerce Department does not regulate Internet access, "any commitment we can get as a condition is a gain for improved broadband for the state," spokeswoman Nicole Garrison-Sprenger said.

"I would love to see more, but I'll take it. It's a good down payment," said Rick King, chairman of the governor's Ultra Broadband Task Force, which set a goal for all Minnesotans to have access to high-speed Internet connections by 2015.

The agreement among Qwest, CenturyLink and the Commerce Department does not require independent third-party testing of any changes in operations of the new combined QwestCenturyLink, according to Jeff Oxley, general counsel for Integra Telecom of Portland, which leases lines from Qwest.

A new system introduced by either Qwest or CenturyLink could foul up anything from transferring customer phone lines to billing, "but when things go wrong, our customers blame us," said Karen Clauson, Integra's vice president of law and policy.

Garrison-Sprenger said the agreement requires the merged company to maintain existing operations' support systems for two years. After that, CenturyLink still would need to provide wholesale services but could upgrade or unify the support systems.

The Commerce Department hammered out the settlement that extends over several years to provide some certainty and stability to the competing phone companies "so any changes could be made in a deliberate, well-thought-out manner," Garrison-Sprenger added.

An administrative judge is hearing arguments over the proposed acquisition at the Public Utilities Commission this week. The PUC isn't expected to rule on the matter until the end of the year or early next year.

Leslie Brooks Suzukamo can be reached at 651-228-5475.