CenturyLink Complets Qwest Communications Merger


CenturyLink and Qwest Communications have finally completed their merger, getting the final state-level clearance for the deal from regulators in Oregon. The now-completed merger created the nation's third largest U.S. "telecommunications" company, operating in 37 states. If cable operators and "telcos" are ranked, then Comcast is the third-largest U.S. provider of voice services. 

Before the company’s acquisition of Embarq Corp. in 2008 CenturyLink generated about $2.5 billion in annual revenue. Now the company is projected to have annual revenues of about $19 billion, you can read more here.

Acquisitions began in 1972 when Century Telephone bought the La Crosse, Wis. Telephone Corp. In 1997 Century Telephone bought Pacific Telecom Inc., adding 660,000 telephone access lines in 12 states and doubling CenturyTel's size. In 2002 it bought 654,000 phone lines in Missouri and Alabama from Verizon.

In 2008, it agreed to acquire Embarq Corp. (formerly Sprint Local Telecom Division). That deal made CenturyTel the largest independent telco and fourth largest telecommunications provider in the United States, based on access lines, serving 33 states with 7.5 million access lines, 2.1 million broadband customers and 450,000 video subscribers.

CenturyLink expects the combination to be immediately accretive to free cash flow per share, excluding integration costs, and it is expected to generate annual operating and capital synergies of approximately $625 million when fully recognized over the next three to five years. On a pro forma basis, the combined company had revenues of $18.6 billion, adjusted EBITDA of $8.1 billion and adjusted free cash flow of approximately $3.1 billion for the 12 months ended Dec. 31, 2010.

The combined company will use the name CenturyLink, although the Qwest brand will continue to be used in former Qwest markets for several months.

It is a measure of how much the telecom market has changed that firms such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable are among the largest U.S. providers of voice services, satellite providers and telcos are becoming major providers of video services, and some might say that mobile services and broadband services also are becoming a leading measure of the influence and importance of providers. 

In each discrete segment, though, there is a clear pattern. There are a couple of very-large providers. In landline telephony or mobility, it would be AT&T and Verizon. In video entertainment it is Comcast, Time Warner Cable, DirecTV and Dish Network. In broadband services the leaders, by subscriber count, include AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Broadband would fairly closely mirror that set of providers. There are a handful of firms, such as CenturyLink, in a clear second tier, but that tier is relatively small, in terms of customer count. In each of the markets, there are hundreds of much-smaller providers. 

One might argue that, over the long term, the stable and defensible positions are at the top, and across the broad bottom, with the greatest chance of change in the middle of the market. Across each of the segments, though, one might also argue that over time, greater scale will be needed as well. 

Gary Kim is a contributing editor for TechZone360. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Janice McDuffee

Contributing Editor

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