CenturyLink's copper replacement plan could spur protests by consumers, CLECs

CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) is replacing its aging copper-based wireline facilities in seven cities, potentially setting itself up for a wave of protests from consumers and CLECs that use existing facilities -- similar to those faced by Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and AT&T (NYSE: T) as they transition their legacy networks. 

Two of the states where it will replace copper with FTTH facilities are Minnesota and Washington, which are part of a broader initiative CenturyLink has taken to support 1 Gbps speed services for residential and business customers. In 2014, CenturyLink announced that it will extend its FTTH service footprint to residential and business customers in select locations in 16 cities.

As part of replacement strategy, CenturyLink is deploying a FTTH overlay architecture that the telco says will enable it to support more of its customers transitioning to broadband services.  

"Growth in the area requires CenturyLink to install Fiber Based Access to its customer," CenturyLink said in a FCC filing. "The copper loops will be replaced by fiber loops as customers migrate to higher speed Broadband Internet Access (BIA)."

CenturyLink added that unbundled copper loops "may not be available to an individual address after the planned completion/retirement date."

Outside of Minnesota and Washington, CenturyLink filed separate copper retirement notices in six other states: Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Set to be implemented in December, CenturyLink said in an FCC filing that the growth in each of its distribution areas "requires CenturyLink to cut facilities to fiber fed digital loop carrier system (DLC)."

The telco added that after the cut to the DLC is conducted, "copper reliant services, such as non-loaded copper loops will not be supported," but "other types of unbundled loops will still be available."

Copper retirement by ILECs like CenturyLink and its counterparts AT&T and Verizon have been a controversial issue. CenturyLink, Verizon and AT&T have been accused of so-called de facto copper retirement where a telco lets its aging copper plant deteriorate to the point where it becomes necessary to replace the copper with fiber. 

Not surprisingly, the three Tier 1 telcos told the FCC in separate filings that de facto copper retirement is a "myth."

Replacing aging copper with fiber-based facilities is an ongoing process that telcos are taking to enhance network speeds and lower maintenance costs.

But one issue consumers have with the process is reliability. Some residential customers are concerned that voice service on the fiber platform will not function during extended power outages.

Furthermore, CLECs such as XO Communications and Transbeam have asked the FCC to impose a minimum six-month notice for non-residential copper retirement. In a separate filing, XO asked for a one-year notice on copper retirement.

For more:
- see this FCC filing (PDF)
- and this filing (PDF)

Editor's Corner: AT&T, CenturyLink and Verizon copper-to-fiber transitions must consider impact on local businesses

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