Telecom: Local carriers beef up business services

Cobalt Designworks owners Jennifer Corio and Dave Frei

Utility workerCenturyLink and Comcast each employ about 170 people in Southwest Washington and both are actively pursuing business customers in the area.

“CenturyLink has committed to spend over $80 million in the state of Washington alone, to invest in our fiber network, which does not include what we will spend on maintenance, upgrades, and additional fiber deployments as the normal course of business,” said Martin Flynn, marketing and public relations manager for CenturyLink.

David Brown, VP of business services at Comcast, noted that his company has been providing telecommunication services to Southwest Washington educational and local government entities for about ten years. In an effort to expand their market, Comcast launched their Metro Ethernet services program a year ago, targeting mid-sized businesses with 50 to 200 employees that need high-bandwidth requirements.

According to a Comcast press release, Metro Ethernet services are ideal for businesses with multiple locations in a metropolitan area, such as universities or a network of hospitals. Metro Ethernet services include several plans featuring point-to-point, point-to-multipoint, multipoint-to-multipoint, and local area network-to-public Internet connectivity.

“It’s fully deployed and launched,” said Brown. “Now we want to go loud with it.”

Brown said Comcast has been sponsoring CIO forums, communicating via industry publications, and talking with “key organizations” in order to promote the new services.

While Comcast is primarily focusing on mid-sized businesses, CenturyLink’s broad range of services beyond connectivity (such as data storage and backup, hosting services, cloud computing and network management) is attractive to large enterprises. According to Flynn, 95 percent of Fortune 500 companies are CenturyLink customers.

The two carriers use completely different networks, a point that Brown emphasized.

“In the past, there has been very little choice,” said Brown. “Comcast’s Metro Ethernet service is a new player from a commercial perspective.”

Flynn said that one of the CenturyLink’s differentiating aspects is that, after the merger with Qwest last year, they have adopted a local business model.

“The local model enables CenturyLink to make decisions on where investments occur in the network here in Southwest Washington, so we are better able to serve business customer needs,” said Flynn.

Although the two companies differ in some respects, they also have commonalities. For example, they both provide services to wireless carriers, through projects Flynn referred to as “fiber to the tower” (FTTT). He said CenturyLink has already done more than 10,000 such builds across the nation in 2011, and expects to do another four to five thousand in 2012.

“Our goal in providing FTTT is to enhance the ability for wireless providers to continue to provide consumers and businesses with the bandwidth they need to take advantage of current and next-generation services,” Flynn said.

Brown said that Comcast has contracts with all the major wireless carriers, to “provide services for mission-critical data.”

Both companies also pride themselves on helping customers find the right solution.

“Customers may have IT support,” said Brown, “but not necessarily network design engineers.”

Therefore, Brown said, Comcast works with customers to help them design for future needs, at least five to ten years out.

CenturyLink, too, said Flynn, works closely with their customers “to find the right solution to meet their needs.”

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach,” said Flynn.

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