Pleased with the response that it's seeing in its first gigabit markets, CenturyLink plans to expand the rollout of 1-Gig service to more of its territories in 2015.
CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) executives made that commitment in their fourth-quarter earnings call with analysts late Wednesday. Although they didn't spell out where they will launch gigabit service next, they said they intend to extend its reach beyond the initial line-up of 10 markets -- which includes Omaha, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Denver, Salt Lake City, Seattle and Portland, Ore. -- as they continue to drive fiber deeper into their networks and expand their deployment of GPON technology over those fiber lines. (See CenturyLink to Expand Gigabit Service to 16 Cities.)
"We're going to continue on with our GPON deployments" for both consumer and business broadband services, said CenturyLink COO Karen Puckett. "We like the halo effect" from the gigabit launches in the early markets.
In those markets. CenturyLink is competing against a variety of cable and other broadband providers, including Cox Communications Inc. in Omaha, Phoenix and Las Vegas, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) in Denver, Seattle and Portland and Bright House Networks in Orlando. The 1-Gig launches have already fueled broadband speed wars in several of the markets, namely Omaha, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Seattle. (See Seattle Warms Up for a Gig and Cox Goes Gaga Over Gigabit.)
Besides launching 1-Gig service throughout the western half of the nation and central Florida, CenturyLink has also been scrambling to boost data speeds on the rest of its plant. Company officials said they hiked 20Mbit/s and 40Mbit/s "speed enablement" by more than 45% over the course of 2014.
Thanks to such moves, CenturyLink added 91,000 high-speed Internet customers for the year, including about 18,600 in the fourth quarter. With those gains, the telco now has almost 6.1 million data subs, making it the fifth-largest broadband provide in the land behind Comcast, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ).
On the heels of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's recent decision to boost the US broadband speed bar to 25 Mbit/s, analysts questioned how that action would affect CenturyLink's broadband strategy going forward. But CenturyLink shrugged off the Commission's move as practically irrelevant because they're already increasing data speeds wherever they can.
"The new definition doesn't really impact us in a significant way," said CenturyLink CEO Glen Post. "We're selling solutions, not just speeds. It won't impact our investment."
Besides pumping broadband, CenturyLink officials also plan to expand deployment of Prism TV this year. Although not nearly as well-known as AT&T's U-verse TV or Verizon's FiOS TV, the IPTV service has been quietly growing at a slow but steady clip each year. CenturyLink reported adding 67,000 Prism TV customers in 2014, including 12,900 in the fourth quarter, to raise its total video sub count to 242,000.
"We've been pleased with the growth of Prism TV in its existing markets," Post said. He noted that CenturyLink also broadened its base of Prism addressable homes by approximately 385,000, exceeding the company's goal for the year and giving it a total footprint of nearly 2.4 million addressable homes that could take the service.
Plans call for offering Prism TV to more households in the second half of the year. But CenturyLink officials said they're not ready to say where just yet.
— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading