CenturyLink, Level 3 To Partners: We Will Go Head-To-Head With AT&T, Verizon

The new CenturyLink wants to build a premier partner program to go along with its renewed focus on serving enterprise customers.

CenturyLink on Wednesday closed its $34 billion acquisition of telecom provider Level 3 Communications. The new company is on a mission to level the playing field with industry heavyweights AT&T and Verizon, and expects to generate about 75 percent of its core revenue from business customers with nearly two-thirds of this revenue coming from strategic services. Channel partners, the provider said, will be crucial in helping CenturyLink reach greater heights.

"We really want to focus competing on a global scale with profitable revenue growth for us and our partners, with a strong customer service focus," Lisa Miller, CenturyLink’s president of wholesale, indirect channels and alliances, told CRN.

[Related: It's Official: CenturyLink Closes $34B Level 3 Acquisition]

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As of January 2018, CenturyLink will have two channel chiefs, John DeLozier, vice president of CenturyLink Channel Alliance, and Garrett Gee, Level 3’s vice president of indirect sales channel. DeLozier and Gee will work together to support master agents, MSPs, and telecom agent partners and will report to Miller.

"We're going to have the best of both worlds," Miller said. "The big thing for our partners is to understand that we are going to support them in the way we have been, and there are very few immediate changes to the way we have been doing business with partners."

As such, Miller said that partners could expect to keep working with their CenturyLink and Level 3 account team, and all customer and partner contracts, as well as the sales process for partners, will remain intact until at least the end of the year.

"We are committed to pulling the strengths of the combined companies together for partners, and we will be evaluating both [CenturyLink and Level 3's] partner programs' processes and tools [in order] to be a very easy partner to do business with, because our goal is to build the premier partner program in the industry," she said. "It's going to take time, but that's really important to us."

The tie-up will help the service provider compete with the likes of AT&T and Verizon with a broader portfolio of network and IT services, as well as a larger broadband footprint, according to the two companies. The carrier's emphasis on business customers should signal increased selling opportunities for partners, said Vince Bradley, CEO of master agent World Telecom Group (WTG), a CenturyLink partner.

Bradly said this focus could also mean improved provisioning and customer service.

"CenturyLink already had a solid network, and when you add the most advanced IP network from Level 3 the possibilities are truly unlimited [for partners]," Bradley said.

The combination will also help CenturyLink land larger business customers, said Shane Stark, director of vendor and channel relations for Carrier Access, an Iowa-based solution provider and CenturyLink Premier partner.

"There's no question that they'll be able to move upmarket," Stark said. "I think Level 3 had a bigger play in the Fortune 500 space than CenturyLink did, so it will be interesting to see how they compete with Verizon and AT&T.."

CenturyLink’s new network will reach into more than 60 countries and 350 metropolitan markets. The network will feed into more than 100,000 fiber-lit, on-net buildings, including 10,000 buildings in EMEA and Latin America.

Miller said that the expanded reach of its network would appeal to more global and multi-national enterprise customers.

CenturyLink today competes with market heavyweights AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon on connectivity, voice, and cable services. Both AT&T and Verizon also offer cellular services to their consumer and business customers, and Comcast joined the fray in April with its own wireless offering for consumer customers, Xfinity Mobile. CenturyLink has yet to come forward with a cellular solution for its end customers, leaving some partners wondering if the now larger provider will pursue a wireless strategy, whether it be homegrown, or via acquisition.

"[CenturyLink] is the only provider in the group that doesn't have wireless, so the question is, will that be next, or will they stay out of that realm?" CarrierAccess' Stark said.

WTG's Bradley said that it would make sense for the new CenturyLink to look at mobility solutions, but that the carrier would likely take their time with such a move to that the integration of the two companies can take priority.

"Like their top competitors, a mobility solution allows [CenturyLink] to get all of the business that comes their way," he said.