CenturyLink challenges Warm Springs Telecommunications' ILEC status request

CenturyLink headquarters

CenturyLink is challenging Warm Springs Telecommunications Company’s (WST) request that the FCC designate it as the ILEC for the Warm Springs wire center, which serves residential and business customers in the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs reservation in Oregon.

Today, CenturyLink operates as the ILEC in the Warm Springs wire center in addition to serving about 16 lines in two separate areas that are outside of the boundaries of the reservation.

In order to prove that it should be designated as an ILEC for the area, WST has to show that it has substantially replaced CenturyLink in the Warm Springs Wire Center. However, CenturyLink argued in an FCC filing that “WST has not made this demonstration” because it has simply overbuilt CenturyLink's network in most of the reservation's boundaries, but not elsewhere.

“If WST wants to be an ILEC for the Warm Springs Wire Center, it should demonstrate that it has substantially replaced CenturyLink in the entirety of the Warm Springs wire center and not just the portion that is within the tribal reservation,” CenturyLink said in an FCC filing. “WST has not done so.”

Because WST uses a mix of fiber and wireless technology, CenturyLink said that it is concerned that WST can’t address all of the customer locations on the reservation. The commission should “better understand this situation prior to any decision regarding this petition,” the telco stated.

In its initial petition, WST pointed out that the service provider currently serves 85 percent of the Warm Spring Reservation’s local exchange market with voice and broadband internet services.

While it has not completed the build out to the entire 1,000 square mile reservation, WST said it serves the entire Reservation. WST currently serves 978 residential and 761 business lines. When WST originally introduced its service, only 63 percent of the reservation was able to get telephone services from CenturyLink’s predecessor company Qwest.

With so few lines remaining, WST said in its filing that it has “substantially replaced” CenturyLink as the reservations’ incumbent LEC. Additionally, the Tribal Administration has migrated all its lines off of CenturyLink and is mainly using only WST to serve its business lines in what it says is “an attempt to keep the Tribes’ money on the Reservation.”

The emergence of WST is a classic story of a community wanting to provide better service where an incumbent would not make new upgrades. After the Tribes could not come to equitable terms with Qwest to bring additional telecommunications to tribal members, Warm Springs Reservation decided to build its own service provider business. As part of that process the tribes tried to purchase Qwest’s telecom assets, but they said the “asking price was too steep, and the two parties were unable to reach mutually acceptable terms.”

Because WST established itself as a CLEC that built their own network for the area that does not use the underlying carrier’s facilities, WST became eligible in 2010 to receive Oregon's Universal Funding on a per line basis. The company was also able to take advantage of the FCC’s ARRA stimulus program. Since WST was a “shovel-ready” project, the company received $5.6 million in ARRA funding to build out its network and overall company.

Besides the amount of customers it can address today, CenturyLink said it is concerned with how WST provides access to rights of way to lay fiber and other network facilities. The telco claims that the tribe has not complied with access requirements in recent years. If WST were to become an ILEC, it has to share rights-of-way with other providers like CenturyLink.

“CenturyLink is concerned that WST may not be willing to uphold these obligations with respect to rights-of-way that are imperative to CenturyLink’s maintenance of its state and federally mandated service obligations in the state of Oregon,” CenturyLink said. “CenturyLink has inquired on several occasions over the past four years regarding negotiations for new right-of-way leases for fiber and for its Warm Springs central office, which the Tribe has largely ignored.”

WST acknowledged that while CenturyLink has facilities on the Reservation, including a non-staffed CO and a fiber link that traverses the Reservation along Interstate 26, neither of these facilities have a lease and the telco has not made any efforts to upgrade the facilities.

“It appears that there have been no regular updates or building of new facilities for many years,” WST said. “While CL still has some remaining customers, (we believe about 100 or so), they are not building out to new homes or upgrading their broadband network. We have begun to talk to CenturyLink staff about working together for a study area waiver and renegotiations of the fiber and CO lease. While there are many issues to resolve, initial conversations for both the leases and the ILEC are proceeding amicably.”

Interstingly, after a new 36-home development was built on the reservation, CenturyLink refused to build out its network to serve the new homes with its phone and broadband services.

“WST presently serves those new homes with fixed wireless to all homes and is presently planning to install fiber in that part of the community,” WST said. “As CL did not extend its network to these homes, WST in the only phone company able to provide POTs line phone service to these residents as well as high speed broadband.”

For more:
- see CenturyLink's FCC filing (PDF)
- here's WST's petition (PDF)

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This article was updated on September 27 with additional information from Warm Springs Telecom.