CenturyLink is closer to meeting buildout requirements in the Connect America Fund (CAF) rural broadband program but is still behind in some states, according to a filing that the company made this week with the FCC.
In a confusing letter, CenturyLink said that as of March 31, 2021, it “had deployed the required broadband to 1,186,226 (101.52%) of the 1,168,483 total locations required across all states.” But the company went on to say that on “an individual state basis, 15 of the 33 states are over 100% deployed, and 5 more are over 95% deployed.”
How the company can claim to have deployed service to more locations than required may relate to areas where initial eligible location counts were subsequently expanded.
In 2015, CenturyLink accepted over $500 million annually in rural broadband funding through the CAF program and committed to making service available in unserved areas of 33 states. All funding recipients were required to meet interim deployment goals and to complete deployments within six years.
The company missed CAF buildout goals for two previous deadlines.
Most recently, in January 2021, CenturyLink said it might not have met the December 31, 2020 deployment targets in 23 of the 33 states. The new letter does not provide specifics about those 23 states.
It does note, however, that at “the current pace of deployment, CenturyLink will achieve full deployment in all states well within the time period specified in 47 C.F.R. 54.320(d)(2).”
CenturyLink reiterated in the letter that it has switched to fixed wireless technology rather than digital subscriber line in some places. According to the letter, that move “will provide a better customer experience.”
Using fixed wireless also may hasten the pace of deployment.
Will CenturyLink CAF Buildout Issues Come Back to Haunt the Company?
CenturyLink’s ongoing challenges in meeting CAF deployment targets come at a time when the FCC has yet to approve the long-form applications of companies that had winning bids in the recent Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction.
CenturyLink, which is now a part of Lumen, had one of the biggest winning bids in that auction, which awarded funding for buildouts to unserved rural areas to the companies that committed to meeting buildout commitments for the lowest level of support. The company is poised to receive $262 million through that program.
Some stakeholders have challenged some of the winning bids, however, and have asked the FCC to closely scrutinize winning bidders’ long-form applications before releasing money to them. Among the concerns raised is whether companies such as CenturyLink and Frontier, which also missed some CAF buildout deadlines, will be able to meet RDOF buildout commitments.
CenturyLink said it will report updated CAF deployment totals as of June 30 on or before September 1.