CenturyLink Moves Further in Direction of Business Services

A proposed CenturyLink acquisition of Level 3 Communications might come as a bit of a surprise. Many of us thought Comcast would be the more-likely buyer. But the proposed deal, if it goes through, would provide ample illustration of changing business strategies by former rural telcos.

Simply put: a few of the larger rural telcos have raced to recreate themselves as provider of services to business customers. That is true for Windstream, Frontier Communications and CenturyLink. In fact, CenturyLink, with a market value of about $15.2 billion, would be acquiring Level 3 at a market value of about $16.8 billion.

In its second quarter of 2016, CenturyLink earned about 34 percent of total revenue from consumers. If one assumes the transaction is consummated, then business revenues might reach as much as 88 percent of total revenues.

That is the sort of deal that might be called a "transforming" event. In other words, CenturyLink would almost immediately become a company that earns substantially much more revenue from business customers than consumers.

In fact, CenturyLink might then become a business services oriented company with some legacy rural telco operations, as well as some metro consumer operations.

CenturyLink would be a firm that "used to be" a rural telco, but has become a business-focused entity.

That further illustrates one enduring principle of the telecommunications business, in the United States and elsewhere. That principle is that tier-one service providers earn most of their profits from business customers, and use those profits to subsidize service to rural consumers.

The general principle is basically that a tier-one fixed network makes high profits in urban areas, is profitable, but less so in suburban areas and loses money in rural areas.

In the same way, tier-one service providers make money from enterprise customers, significant money from mid-market businesses and then make slimmer profits from small business.

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