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CenturyLink Advertises Fiber in Seattle neighborhoods that don't have it: They were supposed to install Fiber in the 90s but didn't

Feb 22, 2021

A month or so ago, I saw this ad in front of my Seattle apartment (neighborhood: Capitol Hill):

CenturyLink Ad in front of my building

My apartment is the building behind the green one holding the billboard.

Yet, CenturyLink only has 140 Mbps VDSL2 in my building. Neighbors only have 15 Mbps ADSL2+ service. This is the result CenturyLink gave for my address:

CenturyLink Result for My Building

I am aware it’s nothing new that phone companies like CenturyLink aren’t upgrading their wires. But it’s not right that CenturyLink is advertising “fiber is here” in areas that don’t have it. Either they should upgrade the area to fiber, or not market fiber in ares that only have DSL.

By no means am I unhappy with my current ISP, Google Fiber Webpass, although admittely I would take CenturyLink if they had fiber in my building as opposed to VDSL2. I also would take CenturyLink VDSL2 over Comcast any day.

But just because I am happy with my ISP does not excuse CenturyLink for advertising fiber in areas without it. If CenturyLink wants to advertise fiber, they should actually build it first and then advertise.

I have complained about CenturyLink’s ads to Washington’s Attorney General and Utilities And Transportation Commission (basically a combined PUC/DMV). I know my complaint may go nowhere, but hey, it’s worth a shot.

While I’m no telecom lawyer (I’m a software engineer by trade), below, I have collected a few facts about why phone companies haven’t upgraded to fiber when they were supposed to in the 1990s.

UPDATE 1: The UTC has denied my complaint saying that they don’t regulate broadband. The AG has forwarded my complaint to CenturyLink.

I have also complained about these ads to the FCC, and may in fact pay to do a “formal” complaint (but am not sure yet). Not because I can’t get symmetrical Gigabit (I can), but more to set a higher regulatory precedent. Maybe we’ll get fiber everywhere. Or at least ISPs have to be honest with ads.

Digging Deeper

But if you dig deeper, the predecessors to our modern phone companies who refuse to upgrade their networks beyond copper DSL, the “phone companies” (meaning AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, Frontier, etc.) were supposed to upgrade the copper telephone networks to fiber optics starting in the 90s.

For that promise, state PUCs and the FCC granted phone companies (legally known as ILECs, or Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers) deregulation and price increases for the supposed “fiber optic” future that never came. On top of that, in 2001 the FCC adopted a 75/25 accounting rule, which let the ILECs put in expenses for their other lines of businesses as local service expenses. This lets ILECs claim wired service is “unprofitable” while giving a free ride to unregulated businesses like wireless, tech, entertainment, et al, and on top of that getting more deregulation.

This is the reason why:

The telecom research group Irregulators is the source of the facts I stated above, and I recommend visiting their site. They have more detailed information on these issues.

To add, the Irregulators sued the FCC and the courts decided that states don’t have to follow the FCC’s 75/25 rule when regulating ILECs (source). This means the states are free to take on the cross subsidies and use the money for building fiber and lowering prices.

In my complaints to Washington’s AG and UTC, I have mentioned these facts and linked to the Irregulators.

What you should do

I recommend that if one of the following is true:

Complain to your state’s attorney general and PUC that the phone company about what you experienced, mention the Irregulators data I showed in the complaint, and state that states have the authority to fix the issues with broadband.

Also, share this article with others, let’s get the word out.

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