Telephone company merger generates little static

Jan 6, 2011

The merger of two of our region’s biggest telephone companies is generating relatively little static. CenturyLink appears likely to get regulatory clearance soon to take over Qwest Communications. But the merger comes with conditions.

States that regulate local phone service are using their veto power over the proposed merger to extract concessions. In Oregon and Washington, Qwest and CenturyLink, locally known as CenturyTel or Embarq, have promised to make more than 120 million dollars in upgrades to rural high speed internet. The combined company also agrees to freeze basic residential landline rates for three years in Washington and two and a half years in Oregon.

Colville Indian council members Susie Allen and Cherie Moomaw are among the handful pressing regulators to demand more broadband.

“All around us on the borders of our reservation everybody is getting the Big Pipe to ‘em. But they’re missing us,” says Susie Allen.

“We have every right to the modern conveniences that everyone else does,” says Cherie Moomaw.

Unlike its neighbors, Idaho extracted no investment pledges from the merging phone companies because it lacks the regulatory leverage.  In Idaho, local phone service is “price deregulated” according to the state Public Utilities Commission. The Idaho PUC says it does not have legislative authority to scrutinize the CenturyLink-Qwest merger, unlike nearly all other western states.

CenturyLink now expects to complete its takeover of Qwest by late this spring. The combined telecom company will service about 18 million phone lines in 37 states.