The 10 Biggest Telecom Stories Of 2017

Never A Dull Moment

One thing's for sure: no one can accuse the telecom market of sitting still in 2017.

The industry saw multi-billion mergers and acquisitions come to a close, with others being upended and threatened by competing carriers, and even regulatory interference. And speaking of the powers that be, Net Neutrality regulations landed on the chopping block in 2017 after the Republican-led Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took over the reins in January.

As the telecom market continued to consolidate and carriers feel the pressure to compete in new and emerging technology arenas, there's no telling what's in store in 2018. In the meantime, CRN rounded up the ten biggest telecom stories of 2017.

Get more of CRN's 2017 tech year in review.

10. AT&T, Verizon Win Once Again In Competitive Wireless Space

The third quarter of 2017 proved to be a turning point for AT&T and Verizon. The two largest carriers in the country have been beaten by competitor T-Mobile in recent years in the subscriber space, but the two incumbent carriers started gaining ground by the end of 2017.

Dallas-based AT&T called Q3 2017 its "best-ever third-quarter" for postpaid phone churn rate of 0.84 percent, attributing the low churn rate to consumers and businesses hanging on to their wireless devices longer and staying on AT&T's network. Verizon also touted its ability to add and retain wireless customers during Q3, which resulted in 74,000 postpaid phone subscribers added on a net basis, and a churn rate of 0.97 percent.

9. CenturyLink Hit With Multiple Lawsuits Alleging Fraud

CenturyLink in June was the target of a wrongful termination lawsuit following an allegation of unfair and fraudulent billing practices from a former employee after being fired. The employee at the time said that she was let go after raising concerns around CenturyLink employees fraudulently signing customers up for accounts without authorization. A week later, the telecom provider was faced with a class-action suit seeking damages as high as $12 billion for its customers across several states.

For its part, CenturyLink said the allegations are "completely inconsistent’ with company policy and culture, and that it is taking the allegations seriously and is diligently investigating the matter. The litigation is still pending.

8. Comcast Launches Wireless Service

Following months of speculation into its strategy, cable giant Comcast took the plunge into the wireless market with its own service for consumers, Xfinity Mobile.

Xfinity Mobile uses a combination of Verizon's 4G LTE network via an MVNO agreement between the two companies, and Comcast's 16 million Wi-Fi hotspots. The service is sold through a bundled offering with the Philadelphia'-based provider's cable, internet and landline voice services, and is a competitive offering that can go head-to-head with wireless offerings from rival carriers AT&T and Verizon, Comcast said.

7. Verizon Beats AT&T In Battle Over Straight Path's Wireless Assets

A month-long bidding war over wireless spectrum holder Straight Path Communications ended when Verizon bested rival AT&T's offer of $1.6 billion.

Verizon eventually won Straight Path in May for a whopping $3.1 billion in an all-stock transaction. The deal gives Verizon valuable and hard-to-come-by millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum licenses that cover the entire U.S., including in the top 40 markets, which will help the carrier compete in the 5G space, partners told CRN at the time of the deal.

6. Service Providers In Hot Pursuit Of Fiber In 2017

The telecom market was all about fiber in 2017, with carriers inking deals to acquire as many assets as they could get their hands on in an effort to add capacity to their networks and quickly build out their network footprints.

In August, Basking Ridge, N.J.-based Verizon confirmed its plans to acquire cable operator WideOpenWest's fiber network in the Chicago area for $225 million. In February, the carrier closed its acquisition of XO Communications for $1.8 billion, gaining for Verizon XO's fiber-optic network business. Verizon in April inked a deal to purchase $1.05 billion in fiber-optic cable from specialty manufacturing company Corning, and in the following month signed a three-year, $300-million deal with the Prysmian Group, a manufacturer of electric power transmission and telecommunications cables and systems.

Fiber-optic bandwidth infrastructure services provider FirstLight in October closed its acquisition of fellow fiber provider 186 Communications. The deal was FirstLight's fourth fiber-related acquisition of 2017.

5. CenturyLink Closes $34 Billion Level 3 Acquisition

On November 1, telecom provider CenturyLink closed the deal to merge with fellow service provider Level 3 Communications for $34 billion following approval from the Federal Communications Commission. Under the terms of the deal, CenturyLink shareholders own approximately 51 percent and former Level 3 stockholders own approximately 49 percent of the newly-combined company. The new CenturyLink has an estimated pro forma revenue of $24 billion, excluding revenue related to CenturyLink's co-location business sale and including estimated divestitures.

Combined, the new company forms the second largest domestic communications provider serving global enterprise customers. CenturyLink said moving forward, 75 percent of its core revenue will be generated from business customers, with nearly two-thirds of its revenue coming from strategic services.

4. Reported Sprint, T-Mobile Falls Apart

For the second confirmed time, U.S.-based wireless giants Sprint and T-Mobile broke off plans to merge operations in November. Instead of regulatory powers standing in their way, however, Overland Park, Kan.-based Sprint's parent company, Japanese-based SoftBank Group, and T-Mobile, controlled by Deutsche Telekom AG of Germany, said at the time that the two companies were unable to land on mutually agreeable terms regarding ownership following months of talks.

Sprint and Bellevue, Wash.-based T-Mobile also attempted to merge in 2014 but called it off after facing scrutiny from the Federal Communications Commission during the Obama administration under FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

3. Verizon Closes Yahoo Deal

Verizon in June closed its acquisition of Yahoo for $4.48 billion, but not without some hurdles along the way.

The telecom giant renegotiated the original price tag of $4.83 billion for Yahoo following revelations earlier in 2017 that Yahoo's network suffered two massive security breaches in 2013 and 2014, with the 2013 attack being called the "largest hack to date" by security analysts. Along with the close of the deal, Yahoo's former CEO Marissa Mayer, along with Yahoo co-founder David Filo and four other board members, resigned as directors of the remaining part of the company not acquired by Verizon, now called Altaba.

2. DOJ Sues AT&T To Stop $85.4 Billion Time Warner Deal

Thirteen months after telecom giant AT&T disclosed its plans to acquire media giant Time Warner for its media properties, the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) sued AT&T in an effort to block the Dallas-based carrier's plan to acquire Time Warner.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in November, alleged that the $85.4 billion deal "would result in fewer innovative offerings and higher bills for American families." At the time, AT&T fired back, calling its planned acquisition a "vertical merger" that could benefit consumers, without removing a competitor from the market.

1. Net Neutrality Threatened

In November the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) revealed its plan to dismantle 2015 net neutrality rules governing how internet service providers handle web traffic. The move quickly met with intense opposition and by the beginning of December, more than 750,000 people had called Congress to protest the upcoming FCC vote. On December 14 commissioners voted to dismantle the net neutrality regulations, allowing Internet service providers to speed up service for some websites and applications, and block or slow down others.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (pictured), a Republican, said the Net Neutrality regulations have stifled broadband companies' investments and are too heavy-handed. Activists backing the Net Neutrality rules, established under former president Barack Obama, said the rules ensured that internet service providers treat all website and content equally.