Editor's Corner—The top 10 biggest stories of 2017 in telecom

Counting down the top stories FierceTelecom covered in 2017. (Image: Pixabay)
Sean Buckley, FierceTelecom

As we end another year here at FierceTelecom, it's time to reflect on the major news themes of the past year in the wireline segment of the telecom industry. The year 2017 was a time again of transition and, arguably, disruption in the wireline segment on three fronts: regulatory, consolidation, and technology.

FierceTelecom is wrapping up an eventful 2017 by taking a hard look at the top 10 and developments that emerged in the market this year. Each of these items have been ranked, from the 10th most important to the #1 most important.  

Once you've checked out this year's biggest stories below, don't forget to check out the biggest stories of 2017 from our sister publications:

10. Consolidated bolsters fiber, broadband rank with FairPoint deal: Consolidated’s purchase of FairPoint may not have been the largest deal in 2017, but it’s clear to me this acquisition positions the Matoon, Illinois-based telco as a larger wholesale and retail business services force. As the ninth largest domestic fiber provider with a presence in 24 states, Consolidated immediately gained a 21,000 fiber route-mile fiber network—17,000 of which are in Northern New England—bringing its total route miles to 35,000. In tandem with increasing its fiber miles, Consolidated enhanced its on-net building and fiber-connected towers to 8,500 and 2,400, respectively. Additionally, Consolidated also enhances its broadband reach with a larger set of copper and last mile fiber assets.

9. Comcast, Charter, Cox get their SDN mojo on: While much of the SDN transition has been heralded by AT&T and Verizon, U.S. cable operators are moving forward with a network virtualization plan. Comcast and Charter are leading cable’s initial charge into SDN, providing SD-WAN services to businesses as the first key service. Leveraging its ActiveCore SDN platform, Comcast debuted its SD-WAN product which it is offering in conjunction with its 1 Gbps DOCSIS 3.1 broadband service. During this year’s MEF 17 show, Charter revealed plans to offer a hybrid SD-WAN solution, offering business customers the option to use a mix of Ethernet and traditional internet access. Cox Communications, according to various reports, is also planning its own SD-WAN and SDN transition.

8. Zayo shores up West Coast, long-haul networks with Electric Lightwave, Spread deals: Zayo continued on its buying spree throughout 2017, shoring up its West Coast and low latency power by acquiring Electric Lightwave and Spread Networks. Electric Lightwave gives Zayo a larger foothold in the Western U.S.—a growth target for service providers trying to enhance their presence not only with businesses--but also a growing base of content and social media companies. By acquiring Spread Networks, Zayo gets access to the desirable low-latency fiber route between New York and Chicago. While the financial market has been the main advocates of low latency networking, this route and the broader coast-to-coast network will also appeal to other customers in the content, media and cloud services verticals.  

7. CenturyLink’s Level 3 acquisition bolsters its enterprise service status: By acquiring Level 3 Communications for $34 billion, the telco transformed itself into an even larger player in the global business services market. CenturyLink gained an additional 200,000 route miles of fiber, including 64,000 route miles in 350 metropolitan areas and 33,000 subsea route miles connecting multiple continents. Now that the acquisition is complete, the key determining factor of success will be in the company’s ability to integrate the assets and how Jeff Storey, who will become CEO of the new company in 2019, will drive the company along a path to profitable growth.

6. Google Fiber’s utility pole battles: With CEOs Craig Barratt and Gregory McCray rapidly departing the unit and an ever-changing strategy, 2017 was a disruptive time for Google Fiber. But the biggest issue Google Fiber fought was against incumbent telco AT&T and cable giant Comcast to accelerate the process of attaching wires to utilities poles via the One Touch Make Ready (OTMR) ordinance. In Louisville, Kentucky, Google Fiber was successful in having the OTMR ordinance passed in February 2016. The service provider was later dealt a blow in Nashville when a federal judge nullified that city's OTMR ordinance.

5. Verizon’s Fiber One initiative: As it looks to shore up its FTTH, wireless, and business services deployments, Verizon has embarked on a multitier fiber procurement strategy. The service provider’s "Fiber One" initiative is getting its fiber from three main sources: fiber suppliers, renting dark fiber from other providers, and acquiring regional networks like XO and WOW’s Chicago assets. In April, Verizon announced two landmark fiber deals with its suppliers Corning and Prysmian—two deals that drove these suppliers to expand their manufacturing capabilities.

4. AT&T contributes ECOMP to open source: AT&T may be one of the most aggressive U.S. providers on the virtualization front, but it isn't above helping push progress forward by contributing platforms to the broader service provider and developer communities. In April, AT&T launched its Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management and Policy (ECOMP), which was later renamed Open Network Automation Protocol (ONAP), into the open source community via The Linux Foundation. This allowed other service providers like Bell Canada and Orange to take advantage of this platform for their own networks.

3. CenturyLink’s billing fraud debacle: Just as it was completing its multibillion dollar acquisition of Level 3, CenturyLink was hit with allegations of billing fraud. A former employee filed a lawsuit in June claiming that the telco engaged in fraudulent billing practices. Following the employee’s suit, several states joined a growing class action suit. Each of these states has cited consumer stories of how CenturyLink has been overbilling customers. Interestingly, an outside investigation CenturyLink commissioned concluded there was no evidence that the service provider charged customers for services they did not order—a practice known as cramming.

2. Verizon sets $10B cost reduction plan via virtualization: Verizon set an ambitious goal to reduce its costs by $10 billion over the next four years, and it is going to leverage network virtualization to drive that initiative forward. Lowell McAdam, Verizon’s CEO and Chairman, told investors in September that by reducing these costs the service provider can stay competitive and reduce operational costs. At the same time, the move to virtualization is enabling the service provider to offer new next-gen services like managed security and SD-WAN.

1. FCC overturns net neutrality: Coming in at number one on our list is the FCC’s recent move to overturn the net neutrality rules adopted during the Tom Wheeler-led FCC in 2015. As part of its Declaratory Ruling, Report and Order, the FCC sought to restore internet freedom by returning broadband internet access service to its prior classification as a Title I information service and reinstate the private mobile service classification of mobile broadband internet access service.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and incumbent telcos—AT&T, CenturyLink and Verizon and their main trade associations the TIA and USTelecom—argue the Title II construct stifled network investment and created an air of uncertainty. However, supporters of the 2015 rules, which provide consumer protections against ISPs blocking and throttling traffic, said the FCC is giving the keys to large providers to control consumers’ internet experience.

That's a wrap of this year's top stories. We hope you enjoyed it, and please feel to weigh in with your comments and opinions. —Sean | @FierceTelecom

P.S. FierceTelecom will be on a publishing break for the holidays. We will update the website with any breaking news during the week, and our newsletter will be back in your inbox on Jan. 2, 2018. Enjoy the holidays and have a Happy New Year!