CenturyLink embraces COVID-19 response by connecting Navy hospital ship

CenturyLink is connecting various emergency healthcare facilities, including U.S. Navy Ship Mercy, during the COVID-19 pandemic. (CenturyLink)

Like other service providers around the globe, CenturyLink is stepping up in its effort to provide internet connectivity where it's needed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike some of those providers, CenturyLink can lean into its COVID-19 response via its large fiber backbone, fiber-lit buildings and a staff that can quickly turn up services.

CenturyLink recently donated its time and equipment to connect U.S. Naval Ship Mercy, which is a hospital ship, when it arrived in port in Los Angeles from San Diego last Friday.

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CenturyLink's Ed Morche, president of strategic enterprise and government markets, said the CenturyLink team had a short turn-around time to provision and install a 1 Gbps Ethernet connection that connected Mercy to the Defense Information System Agency's (DISA) private network.

The U.S. Navy Ship Mercy, which has over 1,000 beds and more than 800 medical personal on board, started accepting patients on Sunday in an effort to keep them away from hospitals that are treating coronavirus patients. On Monday, U.S. Navy Hospital Ship Comfort docked in New York City, which is currently the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak.

"Typically the Defense Information Systems Agency has done this on their own in the past," Morche said. "We had 48 hours from when we received the order from DISA to when the ship was going to dock last Friday. We wanted to make sure that we had our network connectivity fully ready before the ship docked, and that it was going to be operational.

"We went right into implementation mode by making sure that we had the network capacity, the capital equipment, the cards, and the chassis in place. So, it was us coordinating across multiple teams in the company to make sure we had the right people and trucks at the right place."

CenturyLink waived the installation and labor fees, and is providing the Ethernet circuit at no charge for the next 12 months, although Morche said the circuit could be used "for as long as it takes."

On the East Coast, Verizon worked over the weekend to deliver connectivity for the USNS Comfort to support its Monday docking in New York City. Like its sister ship Mercy, USNS Comfort is a medical treatment facility for non-COVID-19 patients. It has 1,000 hospital beds, 12 operating rooms, radiology capabilities and a pharmacy. Verizon also enabled connectivity via a secure, dedicated circuit.

CenturyLink is also leveraging its nationwide, fiber-fed network to help other areas that have been impacted by COVID-19. It has donated high-speed internet connections to temporary hospitals that are popping up across the nation as the coronavirus spreads, including at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

"I think this is the start of what appears to be something much larger," Morche said. "There's going to be a field hospital at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, so we're working with the Seattle Seahawks to provide that connectivity."

CenturyLink is providing a 200 Mbps fiber connection for the 148-bed facility at CenturyLink Field that will also house non-coronavirus patients. CenturyLink has also activated high-speed fiber internet connections at eight quarantine locations in just three days throughout the city of Seattle in King County. These locations are serving coronavirus patients.

In addition to having 170,000 on-net fiber buildings, CenturyLink's workforce is well suited to respond to connectivity demands related to the coronavirus. Morche said he has 25 local general managers spread across the nation who are pared with network planners in major markets.

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"Basically the state and local education team, the SLED team inside of our public sector business, works with my general managers on the enterprise team in the field," Morche said. "The way that we're structured centrally is a little bit different by having the enterprise business, the state and local business, the education business and the federal practice all underneath one organization. Having all those groups converged into one organization make it very easy for us to be nimble.

"We're talking about the local GM helping with the field team to get that connectivity to support the U.S. Navy hospital ship. In next instance, we're talking about the local GM and the Seattle team working with the Seattle Seahawks on getting connectivity to CenturyLink Field."

At the Oregon State Fair and Exposition Center in Salem, Oregon, CenturyLink is providing a 1 Gbps Ethernet connection to yet another temporary hospital for 250 non-coronavirus patients in recovery.

CenturyLink aids government and local agencies

In order to support the increasing number of employees that work from home due to COVID-19, CenturyLink recently rolled out an emergency bandwidth upgrade program and doubled the bandwidth capacity for Zoom video conferencing.

Morche said CenturyLink was providing as much additional bandwidth as state and local agencies needed. CenturyLink is also providing consultation services to its customers as they adjust to stay at home or quarantine working conditions.

"We are one of the largest providers and have been for a very long time," Morche said. "This is just a small way that we can give back. There's an enormous debt of gratitude that we owe to our first responders and to the military who are putting their lives at risk to help protect us. This is just a way that we can help contribute back."