CenturyLink's Beal to carriers: Transform or perish

CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) CTO Matt Beal delivered a blunt challenge to his fellow telco service providers at GENBAND's Perspectives13 conference in Orlando. They can transform the way they do business to the point that Alexander Graham Bell would be unable to recognize it, or perish at the hands of those inside or outside the industry who will.

Matt Beal, CenturyLink

Beal (Image source: CenturyLink)

"Our customers are voting with their feet, and they're going to go to that company that provides this transformative experience," Beal said during an afternoon keynote.

The transformative experience, he emphasized, means recognizing that humans are "a visual species" who want more from their carriers than a voice connection; all services must surround broadband and be convergent and able to be changed at a consumer's whim.

That's not what today's carriers are delivering, he said, comparing today's telephone service to the voice-based product Bell created over 100 years ago.

"In the world to come, if that's the best we can do we deserve to be called … dinosaurs," he said.

Beal admitted that driving this transformation does not fall on the shoulders of telcos alone but will require a change in the way regulators see and regulate the telephone industry, leveling the playing field with the types of regulation--or non-regulation--afforded to other providers in the voice, video and data space.

"We need a new model … for whatever competitive structure we put in place," he said.

Without a change of thinking at the very top of the regulatory chain, there likely will become a digital divide that "will relegate rural to a world without 21st century communications," Beal said. "There is work to be done and it is a hard task" but the carriers, with help from outside, need to expand broadband "to the areas that need it most."

At the foundation of the new telephone company is broadband. Giving a consumer broadband, Beal said, is like "teaching someone to fish. Give them broadband and they can do anything in their life. Give them voice, and all they can do is talk about going fishing."

Regulators must be encouraged to revisit existing rules about interconnecting carriage agreements and "the foolish anachronisms" that surround current telco regulations, he said. "Let's insist we get a rational treatment for our consumers and investors alike. We should not allow regulation in a sub application" that provides different rules for wireline, cable and wireless providers.

Beal demonstrated his own iconoclastic tendencies with his attitude about wireless--a service that CenturyLink does not have and will be hard pressed to offer in the current tight market. Nevertheless, he said, wireless is a big piece of the future telecom picture.

"Mobility is obvious," he said. "The fixed telephone in my life is fixed to my hip, not my wallet."

Show Coverage: GENBAND's Perspectives13: Continuing coverage from Orlando

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