Definition

CenturyLink

Contributor(s): Ben Lutkevich and Brita Van Fossen

CenturyLink is an integrated telecommunications company that provides a wide variety of products and services to clients across the globe, including networking, cloud service and security solutions. CenturyLink is the third largest telecommunications provider in the United States, behind AT&T and Verizon.

Products and services

CenturyLink's offerings fall under three main categories: Enterprise, Small Business and Residential. Products and services in each of the three tiers can be purchased in either bundles or individually. The bundles can be purchased preconfigured or customized.

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Residential options offered include local and long-distance telephone service, fiber optic internet, direct broadcast satellite television with DirecTV and a moving service that helps residential customers seamlessly transfer and activate their CenturyLink services at their new home. Additionally, the company offers home security services.

Residential customers are offered a price-for-life plan for internet service, meaning a customer's initial plan remains the same price as long as they keep the plan.

Small business services include business versions of CenturyLink's voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone, Fiber+ Internet and TV services. The company also offers cloud applications at the small business level.

At the enterprise level, offerings expand to include the following:

  • networking services, such as software-defined networking (SDN), IP virtual private network (VPN), fiber, Ethernet and wavelength services;
  • security services for the cloud, distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack prevention, and analytics and threat management;
  • managed services application, operating system (OS) and infrastructure management;
  • cloud services for public, hybrid, multi- and private cloud management, as well as big data analytics and disaster recovery (DR);
  • voice and unified communications (UC) services, like hosted VoIP and online video and web conferencing platforms; and
  • IT consulting services for cybersecurity and infrastructure design and transition.

CenturyLink also promises 24/7 customer service to all residential, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and global enterprise customers.

The company also places a strong emphasis on the high-speed connectivity -- up to 940 megabits per second (Mbps) -- of its fiber network, especially for residential and small business customers. However, it is important to know that this only applies to select locations.

CenturyLink is currently available in 36 states across the country. Out of those 36, only select cities in some states have access to the company's gigabit (Gb) fiber network. In areas without the network, users are offered CenturyLink's digital subscriber line (DSL) service, which achieves advertised speeds 80% to 95% of the time, according to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) data. Users can check the internet speed and availability of the internet service coverage in their city by entering their address on the CenturyLink site and looking at the site's national availability map.

Competitors

Some of CenturyLink's notable competitors are AT&T, Comcast and Verizon. One notable advantage that CenturyLink has over these companies is its reputation as a legacy company with well-established infrastructure spanning a large portion of the central United States. It also offers better value pricing for gigabit internet than some competitors, such as Comcast, as well as lower starting prices for internet.

However, CenturyLink has been reported to have less than optimal customer service by some review sites and a series of severe network outages in the past decade -- one of which was dubbed among the worst in U.S. history by the FCC -- put CenturyLink's reputation in jeopardy and, therefore, gives an advantage to its top opponents.

Other areas in which CenturyLink ranks lower than some competitors are the internet speeds it offers -- for example, Comcast is faster -- and its overall lack of Wi-Fi hotspots.

Future of CenturyLink

Some speculators predict that the introduction of 5G could mean trouble for CenturyLink in the near future, in part because it would mean a further decline in consumer interest in phone line and cable TV services -- two staples of CenturyLink's business model. While CenturyLink's fiber optic network is a necessary part of implementing 5G and may prove an asset for it, the company may end up being acquired by a competitor that is more capable of adapting to the migration to 5G and is less involved in waning tech trends, like cable TV. The company can also be expected to continue investing in edge computing and cloud services in the future.

Despite the uncertainty of CenturyLink's future in providing for residential customers based on its ability to adapt to changes in technology, several important government contracts were awarded to CenturyLink in 2019 and 2020 that help secure a role for the company in the future telecommunications landscape.

History of CenturyLink

CenturyLink was founded in 1930 in Oak Ridge, Louisiana. At the time, it was named Oak Ridge Telephone Company.

In 1971, the company was renamed Century Telephone Enterprises Inc. The following year, it acquired La Crosse Telephone Corporation, which initiated a multidecade period of substantial growth for the company, largely due to a series of similar acquisitions.

In 2003, the company made the dual acquisitions of Digital Teleport and Level 3 Communications -- including their respective fiber networks -- and these are now some of CenturyLink's main assets. In 2005, the company began a wireless voice and data service and bought more fiber networks in the central United States.

The company obtained Embarq Corporation in 2009 and changed its name to CenturyLink, which became official in 2010. It acquired Qwest Communications in April 2011, which boosted the company to its No. 3 national ranking. The company also acquired Savvis in 2011, marking the beginning of its involvement in the cloud computing market.

Several notable service outages have also occurred in the last decade, bringing CenturyLink's customer service and overall reputation into question for many customers.

In late 2018, for example, CenturyLink experienced a 37-hour nationwide outage that impacted nearly 22 million customers in 39 states and kept nearly 900 calls to 911 from being connected, according to a report the FCC released in 2019. The FCC dubbed it one of the worst network outages in U.S. history.

In 2019, CenturyLink was awarded a contract to provide core networking services to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

In 2020, CenturyLink was awarded a task order to provide the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) with secure connectivity, as well as a $1.6 billion contract with the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI). DoDEA is a federally operated school system that serves the children of active duty military members and Department of Defense (DOD) families.

This was last updated in January 2020

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