I watched as “someone” strung fiber all around my neighborhood last week. Then on Friday I finally saw a CenturyLink truck cruising the work. Mystery solved. I had heard rumor about the possibility of an upgrade last summer – but I wasn’t sure how that was going to shake out, especially after the City of St Paul hitched their wagon to Comcast.
It’s nice to live in an area that’s seeing some action and competition. But I think of the areas that aren’t as lucky and it was through that lens that I read a recent article from CCG Consulting on CenturyLink’s interest in fiber. So the good news is that there’s someone who is invested in maintaining wired connectivity…
But in reading between the lines I think they really want to invest in fiber. CenturyLink inherited possibly the worst local network in the country when they merged with Qwest. Qwest had been in marginal financial shape for so long that they had let the networks in most markets deteriorate significantly. Qwest instead invested on long-haul and large city downtown fiber to make money in transport, long distance and sales to large businesses. And they did okay in those areas and have one of the best nationwide fiber networks.
CenturyLink has the most to lose of the large ISPs. AT&T and Verizon have become cellular companies that also happen to be in the landline business. The cable companies have captured the lion’s share of the residential data market almost everywhere. But CenturyLink has no fallback if they lose landline-based revenues. They inherited a network that lost the residential battler everywhere in head-to-head competition with the cable companies. And in every large city they have significant competition for business customers from CLECs, cable companies and fiber providers.
So I think CenturyLink has hit upon the right strategy. In every market (or at least in every neighborhood) there is likely to only be one fiber provider who is willing to build to everybody. Over time, as households and businesses want more data, fiber is going to be the only long-term network that will be able to satisfy future data demand.
And that’s a good thing as the article points out that gigabit wireless may be overly optimistic…
I keep hearing about having gigabit wireless products someday, but the physics of that product will require mini cell sites that are close to customers. And that means having a cellular network that is fed by neighborhood fiber. Anybody who thinks that the cellular companies are going to be able to supply that kind of bandwidth with the current cellular networks doesn’t understand the physics of spectrum.
The problem for rural areas is inherent in the historical piece of the article. CenturyLink inherited a tough network for rural areas. It sounds like they will upgrade as they can but as a commercial provider, they will still be relying on a business case model. It makes the case for trying to build a local business case and/or building local infrastructure to help build the case. Time and time again we hear that even with wireless, infrastructure will be necessary.