CenturyLink told the FCC last week that it expects to meet its Connect America Fund CAF II deployment deadlines. Using fixed wireless in some areas may be key to meeting that goal, according to a letter that CenturyLink sent to the FCC.
The CAF II program gave funding to CenturyLink and other incumbent carriers in 2015 to bring high-speed broadband to areas of their local service territories where service was not already available. CenturyLink accepted about $500 million in CAF funding.
Carriers accepting CAF funding were required to complete construction within six years and to meet deployment milestones along the way. CenturyLink told the FCC in December that it would miss or had missed one of its deployment milestones and in May, the company asked the FCC for a deadline extension, citing delays resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter sent to the FCC last week, however, CenturyLink changed its tune and noted that it was on track to meet its full deployment targets by the required date.
“At the current pace of deployment, CenturyLink will achieve full deployment in all states well within the time period specified,” the company said.
By way of explanation, CenturyLink said, “In some places, our CAF II deployment has switched to fixed wireless technology instead of digital subscriber line technology, which will provide a better experience in those places.”
The company added that it “continues to deploy fiber-fed digital subscriber line network in CAF II areas where that provides a better customer experience.”
Some other price cap carriers – including AT&T, Windstream and Frontier – have become increasingly bullish about fixed wireless broadband. AT&T is using it to meet some of its CAF II buildout requirements. And Windstream’s CEO has gone as far as to say that copper broadband will become “irrelevant” as a result of advances made in fixed wireless technology. Despite its bankruptcy filing, Windstream won millimeter wave spectrum in recent auctions, which the company undoubtedly will use for fixed wireless. And both Windstream and Frontier have qualified to bid in the upcoming auction of spectrum in the CBRS band and would likely use their winnings for fixed wireless.
Until now, CenturyLink had shown less interest in fixed wireless broadband in comparison with other price cap carriers. But the shift makes sense in light of the company’s CAF II deployment deadlines because fixed wireless is typically faster to deploy than wired alternatives.
Updated to specify that CenturyLink expects to have all CAF II deployments completed by the required deadline.