Frontier said the COVID-19 pandemic hampered progress last year.

Edward Gately, Senior News Editor

January 25, 2021

3 Min Read

Both CenturyLink and Frontier Communications have notified the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that they’ve failed to meet broadband deployment deadlines.

The federal Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II funding required the deployments. CenturyLink said it’s on track to complete all deployments by the end of this year, while Frontier said the COVID-19 pandemic hampered progress last year.

CAF is an FCC program. It aims  to expand access to voice and broadband services in areas where they are unavailable. Through CAF Phase II, the Commission provides funding to service providers to subsidize the cost of building new network infrastructure or performing network upgrades to provide voice and broadband service in areas where it is lacking.

In 2015, the FCC authorized 10 telecommunications carriers to receive nearly $9 billion in support over six years for rural broadband deployment from the CAF. CenturyLink is getting nearly $506 million to deploy service to almost 1.2 million homes and businesses in 33 states. Frontier originally was slated to receive more than $283 million to deploy service to nearly 660,000 homes and businesses, and that later was expanded to 774,000 in 29 states.

The regulations required carriers to bring internet access to 80% of funded locations by the end of 2019. Furthermore, the regulations required 100% by the end of 2020.

Shortfall Expected

In January 2020, both CenturyLink and Frontier said they were likely to fall short of broadband deployment requirements.

The FCC awarded the CAF money to CenturyLink, not Lumen Technologies, to which CenturyLink rebranded last year. The company still provides services to consumers and small businesses under the CenturyLink brand.

In a Jan. 15 FCC filing, CenturyLink said it met or exceeded the program’s Dec. 31, 2020, milestone in 10 states. However, it may not have met the CAF Phase II 100% deployment milestone in 23 states.

When contacted, CenturyLink said it has made substantial investments to bring broadband to rural Americans. It has deployed broadband to more than 1.1 million homes and small businesses across over the last five years.

“We are on track to achieve full deployment in all states by the end of 2021 as specified in the FCC’s rules, which provide the flexibility to address real-world challenges that arise as rural networks are built out,” CenturyLink said. “For 2020, we stayed on track with our overall buildout plan and successfully met the FCC’s 2020 CAF milestone in 10 states and are close in the remaining states.”

Unprecedented Challenges

In its FCC filing, Frontier said it exceeded the program’s Dec. 31 final broadband deployment milestone in eight states. However, it may not have met the 100% deployment milestone in 17 states.

The pandemic led to unexpected challenges that impacted Frontier’s 2020 broadband construction.

“Specifically, although Frontier employees and construction crews continued their work to deploy broadband to unserved areas as quickly as possible throughout the pandemic, statewide shutdowns, local government lockdowns, curfews, state office closures, and hotel and business closures presented extraordinary obstacles to achieving year-end deployment goals,” Frontier said.

Frontier says its chapter 11 bankruptcy didn’t negatively impact or delay CAF 2 buildouts. However, it did present an additional challenge for Frontier’s team.

“Frontier’s successful emergence from Chapter 11 is expected in March or April, which will enable Frontier to continue its large-scale fiber-to-the-premises investment that is already under way and to complete its transformation into a stronger service provider,” it said.

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About the Author(s)

Edward Gately

Senior News Editor, Channel Futures

As news editor, Edward Gately covers cybersecurity, new channel programs and program changes, M&A and other IT channel trends. Prior to Informa, he spent 26 years as a newspaper journalist in Texas, Louisiana and Arizona.

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