The Bauminator

CenturyLink’s Percentage Play

5/01/2013 11:01 AM

If Google Fiber’s grand plan is to needle other ISPs into offering 1 Gig speeds, it’s having some limited success.

The latest to jump on board is CenturyLink, which announced it will start to test a 1 Gbps service (it has already pegged a brand name for the product: Ligthspeed Broadband) to eligible customers starting on Monday, May 6, and expand that to 48,000 customers by early October.

CenturyLink wouldn’t say how many customers it already has in Omaha, but a spokeswoman told me that the company has 202,000 access lines in Nebraska.  There were 177,518 housing units in Omaha as of 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. So, all that really does is give us a sense of the size and scope of the project. The telco is clearly dipping a couple of toes in the water before taking the Nestea Plunge. And we don't know yet how much scratch CenturyLink will spend on this fiber pilot.

And did CenturyLink do this to preempt Google Fiber? BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield wondered as much in this tweet, recalling that Omaha put its name in the hat in 2010 when Google first asked cities around the nation to explain why they deserved to get its 1 Gig goodness. Even the town I lived in at the time tried to get in on the action.

Outside of the targeted speeds, CenturyLink is not following the Google Fiber playbook in terms of subscriber acquisition. Rather than asking 1 Gig wannabees to pay a small registration fee in the hopes of getting enough service penetration to justify the expense of the deployment, CenturyLink has set up a Web site that calls on area consumers to plug in their addresses to see if their homes are even in the eligible footprint (CenturyLink hasn’t publicly defined exactly where that is).

And the bundled price for CenturyLink’s 1 Gig test service, at $79.95 per month, compares well with Google Fiber’s unbundled price of $70 per month in Kansas City, but shoots up to $149.95 as a stand-alone. But CenturyLink and Google Fiber both look like price gougers when compared to the $35 per month that Vermont Telephone Company  (VTel) is charging for 1 Gig, though the company did question whether keeping it at that price is sustainable.