Touting the deal as a boon for broadband, the Federal Communications Commission today conditionally approved the merger of Qwest Communications and CenturyLink.
As with the Comcast-NBC merger approval, some of the FCC's conditions are aimed at increasing broadband adoption among lower-income households. Among other terms, the Qwest and CenturyLink agreed that they would offer some low-income subscribers broadband access for less than $10 a month and a computer for less than $150.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement that those provisions, combined with the company's promises to devote resources to "marketing, outreach, and digital literacy training" create a program that "holistically tackles the principal barriers to broadband adoption."
Qwest and CenturyLink also agreed to offer broadband connections with actual -- as opposed to advertised -- speeds of at least 4 Mbps to at least 4 million more homes and businesses and 20,000 schools, libraries and other institutions. Additionally, the companies will increase the availability of higher-speed connections by doubling the number 12 Mbps lines and tripling the number 40 Mpbs lines.
Unlike the case with Comcast and NBC, however, the FCC didn't require the companies to agree to adhere to neutrality rules as a condition of the merger, prompting criticism by advocacy group Free Press. "Although Free Press did not oppose this merger, we did raise concerns about its impact on the companies' customers and requested the FCC apply conditions similar to the Net Neutrality protections applied in the AT&T-Bell South merger to safeguard the open Internet and lessen the harm to consumers," research director S. Derek Turner said in a statement.
For now, however, Qwest and CenturyLink will have to follow neutrality rules given that the FCC recently voted to enact them. But the rules could be invalidated down the line -- either by the courts or by Congress. And while a repeal probably won't gain traction in the Democratic Senate, some observers predict that the rules will be nixed in court on the theory that the FCC lacks authority to regulate information services such as broadband.