Qwest Plays Wait-and-See on IPTV

While fellow Bell operators AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. are charging ahead with fiber-to-the-home and Internet-delivered television service, Qwest Communications International Inc. is hanging back — on purpose, according to its CEO.

In a fourth-quarter earnings call last week, CEO Dick Notebaert told analysts that the Denver-based telephone provider has built fiber-to-the-home connections to some 2,350 households in new developments in its territory, but it is basing any further fiber extensions on customer demand.

Notebaert said Qwest had been pushing fiber closer to customers where needed to improve bandwidth, saying that more than half of Qwest’s digital subscriber line customers receive data from the network at connections of between 3 and 5 Megabits per second. The company now reaches 77% of its footprint with digital subscriber line services that run off existing copper lines.

“We’ll continue to do that as customers continue to need the higher bandwidth — think of it as just-in-time inventory control,” Notebaert said. “We’re trying to manage that so we get the bandwidth there.”

On the TV front, Qwest offers direct broadcast satellite service with partner DirecTV Inc. throughout its 14-state territory. That service drew in 128,000 new customers in the fourth quarter, a 31% rise compared to the third quarter.

But it has fielded a handful of wireline TV efforts. In the Denver suburb of Lone Tree, Colo., Qwest offers TV service with 200 channels of video delivered on a fiber-to-the home network in the RidgeGate subdivision. It also has broken ground on a fiber-to-the-home network in the Daybreak subdivision in South Jordan, Utah.

In Highlands Ranch, Colo., and Phoenix, Qwest also has video franchises to offer service using very-high-datarate digital subscriber line (VDSL) technology — a souped-up-bandwidth sibling of DSL. Delivered via fiber to the neighborhood, with the last segment riding standard copper phone lines, the VDSL technology offers a throughput of 7 Mbps.

And in Omaha, Qwest offers TV service over a hybrid fiber-coax network. In all, Qwest now serves nearly 70,000 customers with these fiber, copper and coax TV options.

That said, Qwest isn’t joining its fellow Bells in aggressively pushing IPTV service rollouts, Notebaert said.

“We will follow with great interest the deployment of IPTV and what customers want, and how it plays out,” he said. “Being a follower is not a bad thing, and we’ll continue to watch this with great interest.”