CPUC leaves heavy lifting to feds, okays CenturyLink-Level 3

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Update, 18 October 2017: the CPUC posted the final decision, no changes:

CPUC decision approving settlement regarding proposed transfer of control of the Level 3 operating entities, 12 October 2017.

CenturyLink’s purchase of Level 3 Communications has the blessing of the California Public Utilities Commission. In a unanimous vote yesterday, commissioners approved a decision authored by administrative law judge Regina DeAngelis that grants permission, subject to various administrative requirements and compliance with a settlement agreement reached with consumer advocacy groups. There was only a brief comment from commissioner Cliff Rechtschaffen, regarding minority contracting goals.

The settlement dances around the central problem posed by the merger: the increasing concentration of California’s already uncompetitive market for dark fiber and other wholesale services. CenturyLink will have to work with the groups – including the California Emerging Technology Fund, which was otherwise shut out of the decision – to identify a project, or maybe more than one, that’ll expand middle mile fiber infrastructure in under and/or unserved areas. But assuming this new infrastructure is eventually built, there’s no requirements regarding how, or even if, it’ll be offered to potential customers.

There’s a capital investment target, but it’s squishy. CenturyLink committed to $323 million in capital spending in California over the next three years, but only “aspires” to invest in network expansion and upgrades or meeting customer demand. That’s a loophole big enough to march a platoon of accountants through.

There are weak requirements for CenturyLink to honor existing service contracts in California for two years, and to give 90 days notice if – when – it exits the dark fiber business.

The only bona fide effort at protecting market competition so far has come from the federal justice department, which is forcing CenturyLink to give up control of a couple dozen fiber strands on key intercity routes, including five in California.

The remaining hurdle is permission from the Federal Communications Commission. Given the justice department’s okay, that seems likely to come soon, perhaps today but no later than early next week, if the FCC sticks to the timeline posted on its website.

  • saberman

    >In a unanimous vote yesterday
    Why isn’t this posted anywhere on the CPUC web site? It still has the proceeding A1706016 listed as active not approved.

    • The CenturyLink/Level 3 proceeding is A1703016. The ALJ’s proposed decision was approved unanimously last Thursday. The agenda results are posted here:

      https://ia.cpuc.ca.gov/agendadocs/3406_results.pdf

      It’s item 7.

      It usually take a few days for everything to be processed after a voting meeting. But expect to see the final version of the decision in a couple of days. The docket card — which is what I think you’re looking at — will be updated sometime after that. Once that happens, it should be listed as closed.