Lumen Technologies’ Broadband Deployment Discriminates Against Lower-Income & Tribal Areas, According to New Report from Communications Workers of America and National Digital Inclusion Alliance

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

With 39% of households in Lumen’s footprint lacking access to broadband, CWA and NDIA demand Lumen invest in next-generation networks and highly-skilled union workforce

NATIONWIDE — Lumen Technologies (formerly CenturyLink), one of the country’s major broadband providers with 4.7 million residential and small business subscribers, is worsening the digital divide in the U.S. by blatantly failing to invest in essential fiber-optic buildout in lower-income, rural, and Tribal communities, according to a new report from CWA, in partnership with the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA). The report, “Lumen’s Digital Disparity: Underinvestment in Infrastructure Discriminates Against Lower-Income, Rural, and Native American Customers,” analyzes Lumen’s network in 30 states using Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Form 477 data, interviews with Lumen technicians, and reports by local advocates in Lumen’s service area.

The report finds that Lumen’s network upgrades are designed to benefit high-income communities across all geographies, with the company maintaining widespread service below the FCC’s broadband definition of 25/3 Mbps in the 30 states where Lumen has more than 100,000 households. The company’s underinvestment in broadband deployment in lower-income communities is exacerbated by its recent job cuts of highly-skilled union workers. Since 2017, Lumen has cut more than 4,500 CWA-represented jobs critical to broadband buildout. Meanwhile, Lumen received more than $500 million per year from 2015 to 2021 from the FCC’s Connect America Fund to build broadband to unserved areas.

Key Findings:

  • 42% of households with access to fiber in Lumen’s footprint are in census blocks with median incomes above $75,000.
  • Only 7% of Lumen’s fiber network is in census blocks with median incomes below $35,000.
  • 39% of households in Lumen’s footprint do not have access to speeds that meet the FCC’s definition of broadband.
  • Only 5.8% of households across the predominantly rural counties in Lumen’s national footprint have access to fiber-to-the-home service.
  • About 5.2% of households in counties with higher populations of Native Americans (more than 25% of households) have access to fiber-to-the-home service while 50% only have DSL access.

“Lumen Technologies is a clear example of what happens when telecom companies aren’t held accountable to their workers and customers,” said CWA District 7 Vice President Brenda Roberts. “The result is millions of people, largely people of color and Tribal communities, without internet access and with unnecessary barriers to remote work, school, and online healthcare. With a massive national footprint and hundreds of millions of dollars allocated to building broadband in communities that need it most, Lumen Technologies needs to set an example for the industry and help close the digital divide by investing in next-generation networks in low-income and rural communities.”

The report comes amid CWA’s launch of its Build Broadband Better campaign, a nationwide initiative to secure access to broadband across all corners of the country, including low-income communities and Tribal areas, and ensure deployment is done by dedicated union employees with extensive experience who are paid fair wages with good benefits. CWA and its Broadband Brigade are calling for legislation that will keep telecom companies in check and support the shared partnership between private companies and the federal government to deploy broadband properly.

“This report is the first to highlight Lumen’s blatant underinvestment in our country’s most disadvantaged communities. Despite being one of the largest broadband providers in the country, the company has time and again chosen to invest in wealthy areas over low-income, rural, and Tribal communities,” said NDIA Executive Director Angela Siefer. “This will not lead us to the digitally equitable society we’re all striving to achieve. In fact, the opposite is true. Their practices are worsening the digital divide.”

In response to Lumen’s inadequate fiber deployment and internet speeds significantly below the FCC’s benchmark for broadband in much of its service area, CWA is calling for Lumen Technologies to: 1) Commit to capital investment in fiber deployment that would double the number of households passed by fiber in two years; 2) Pursue federal funding opportunities to build fiber infrastructure in underserved areas; 3) Upgrade its network in rural and Tribal communities; 4) Invest in a low-income product and bulk sales of its wireline service to school districts and other public entities; and 5) Stop its practice of outsourcing publicly-funded broadband jobs to non-union contractors.

“Lumen Technologies’ failure to effectively deploy broadband in unserved communities stems in large part from the ongoing job cuts of its highly-skilled union workforce,” said President of CWA Local 7804 Jake Williams. “Union workers with CWA are Lumen’s most important resource when it comes to effective broadband buildout. Union workers have decades of training and experience in broadband deployment, and they know what it takes to build strong, lasting connectivity. Lumen needs to start investing in its workers who are on-the-ground hearing customers’ concerns and installing the company’s network.”

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