If a possible deal between CenturyLink and Qwest goes through, the residents of West Glacier could finally have broadband service by the end of 2011.
And that seems to be exactly what many want.
“I support the merger of Qwest by CenturyLink,” Chuck Brasen said. “West Glacier seems to have been left out of Internet upgrades.”
About 50 people from West Glacier and surrounding areas attended a meeting hosted by the state Public Service Commission. The PSC is currently considering the acquisition of Qwest by CenturyLink. Representatives of both companies also attended the meeting.
PSC Commissioner Ken Toole, who lead the meeting, expressed his support for the deal and the resulting acceleration of broadband service to West Glacier.
Brasen, who currently uses dial-up Internet service, said he recently bought a new computer. The upgrade he needed to use his old printer was only available over the Internet.
“It would take me 93 hours to download it,” he said.
Jeremy Ferkin, vice president and general manager of CenturyLink’s Rocky Mountain market said if everything goes as planned broadband could be available to West Glacier by the end of 2011.
“The pressure is there,” Ferkin said. “We want to make it happen.”
This hinges, in part, on the condition of Qwest’s telecom facilities in West Glacier. Ferkin isn’t, by law, allowed to look at that information until a deal can be approved. The condition will could impact how far service can be expanded beyond West Glacier.
The acquisition still has to be approved by the Public Service Commission in Montana, along with 11 other states and the Federal Communications Commission. The PSC hearing is set for Nov. 22-23 in Helena.
Both companies expect to have the deal finished by the first half of 2011. Ferkin pledged he would hold a public meeting in West Glacier within 30 days of completion.
Several business owners said lack of broadband access continues to affect them.
Ed McMillian, with Glacier Haven RV and Campground in Essex, said potential guests sometimes call and then hang up when they learn there’s no Internet access available. Chuck Brasen said his wife, Monica Jungster, owner of Montana House in Apgar, was forced to give up the Internet portion of her business because of dial up.
Sally Thompson, an owner of Glacier Raft Company, advocated for the merger.
“It’s like pulling your hair out trying to run a business — it’s really frustrating — without high-speed Internet,” she said.
Thompson added that bringing broadband to West Glacier Elementary, where the meeting was held, is important.
“This school really needs it to keep up. We’re a high-speed growing world,” she said.
Qwest runs its telecom lines from east of Glacier National Park over Marias Pass to West Glacier.
David Gibson, Qwest’s state president for Montana, said it would be easier for CenturyLink to bring its broadband access east.
“The engineering that we have to do is a lot more onerous,” Gibson said. “The merger will make it a whole lot simpler and probably a lot faster.”
If approved, the $10.6-billion deal will make CenturyLink the third-largest telecommunications company in the nation. The deal was announced in April.
While comments at the meeting were favorable of the merger, the Montana Consumer Counsel has expressed concerns of the deal. No one from the counsel was present at the meeting, but Toole distributed a statement from the counsel.
The statement questions whether the merger would benefit Montanans at all. It noted that both companies have been losing landline telephone subscribers for years and that the financial position of the combined company would be weaker than on a stand-alone basis.
“Although CenturyLink claims that it will achieve $625 million in ‘synergy’ savings, there is no regulatory means at this time to guarantee any sharing of those savings with Qwest’s Montana customers,” the counsel statement said.
The counsel recommends approval only if the PSC imposes several conditions on the merger. Those include protecting Montana ratepayers from increased costs. It has also asked that CenturyLink honor Qwest’s commitment to provide broadband Internet access to West Glacier by April 2012.