CenturyLink tones down deadline threat to CPUC

31 July 2017 by Steve Blum
, , ,

Okay, maybe not high noon. But can we say twelve-ish?

When CenturyLink and Level 3 Communications signed their marriage license, they set an 11 month time limit to take their vows. That’s common enough in major transactions – setting closing dates makes it easier to structure financial packages and it keeps everyone focused on getting it done. But blowing past such deadlines is not uncommon either, and coming to agreement on extensions is a relatively straightforward process, if the companies involved still want to make it happen.

Nevertheless, CenturyLink has insisted that unless the California Public Utilities Commission approves its purchase of Level 3 no later than its 14 September 2017 meeting, the entire transaction will be in peril and the meaningless concessions it’s made in response to protests by consumer groups will disappear. That claim has always been nonsense, and CenturyLink has begun to slowly back off from it. In a footnote to its latest plea to the CPUC, CenturyLink and Level 3…

…respectfully note that it would be extremely helpful if Commission approval occurred at the September 14, 2017. They note that the Commission’s second September meeting falls on September 28, 2017, only one business day prior to the anticipated Transaction closing date.

An express lane through the CPUC’s normal public review process has gone being an imperative to merely “extremely helpful” to the U.S.’s third largest telco, and the 30 September 2017 brick wall has dissolved into an “anticipated” date.

Even so, CenturyLink couldn’t resist one little head fake away from the truth: yeah, the meeting is one business day before the deadline, but it’s two actual days. And when $34 billion is on the table, no one will mind showing up for work on a Saturday. Not that it’ll be necessary though. Last year, when Charter Communications bought Time Warner Cable – a much bigger deal, as CenturyLink helpfully points out – it closed the day after the CPUC gave its blessing.

It is probably true that pushing the closing date into October or later will cause CenturyLink some grief. But it only has itself to blame. It waited more than two months before it filed its first request for permission, and then dawdled three more months as it tried to slip the deal through administratively. CenturyLink wasted five months between the time it announced the Level 3 purchase and its request for formal approval from the CPUC.

Few would argue that the CPUC’s process moves quickly enough – I sure wouldn’t – but it is what it is. When a deal stinks as badly as this one does, there’s no excuse for the CPUC to abandon its due diligence responsibilities in order to be extremely helpful to a major incumbent telecoms company.