10-K 1 file10k.htm FORM 10K 2010 file10k.htm
UNITED STATES
SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Washington, D.C.  20549

FORM 10-K

[ X ] Annual Report Pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the
Securities Exchange Act of 1934

For the fiscal year ended December 31, 2010


or

[    ] Transition Report Pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the
Securities Exchange Act of 1934

Commission file number    1-7784
 
 
Logo

 
CENTURYLINK, INC.
(Exact name of Registrant as specified in its charter)

 
 
 
Louisiana
 
72-0651161
 
 
(State or other jurisdiction of
 
(IRS Employer
 
 
incorporation or organization)
 
Identification No.)
 


100 CenturyLink Drive, Monroe, Louisiana
 
71203
(Address of principal executive offices)
 
(Zip Code)

Registrant’s telephone number, including area code - (318) 388-9000

Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:

Title of each class
Name of each exchange on which registered
 
 
Common Stock, par value $1.00
New York Stock Exchange
Berlin Stock Exchange
   

Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act: 

Stock Options
(Title of class)

Indicate by check mark if the Registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act.      Yes [X]       No [   ]

Indicate by check mark if the Registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Act.         Yes [   ]       No [X]

Indicate by check mark whether the Registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Act during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the Registrant
was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.       Yes [X]         No [   ]

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Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically and posted on its corporate Web site, if any, every Interactive Data File required to be submitted and posted pursuant to Rule
405 of Regulation S-T during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit and post such files).         Yes [X]   No [  ]

Indicate by check mark if disclosure of delinquent filers pursuant to Item 405 of Regulation S-K is not contained herein, and will not be contained, to the best of Registrant's knowledge, in definitive proxy
or information statements incorporated by reference in Part III of this Form 10-K or any amendment to this Form 10-K.    [  ]

Indicate by check mark whether the Registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, or a smaller reporting company.  See definition of “large accelerated filer”, “accelerated
filer” and “smaller reporting company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.  (Check one):

Large accelerated filer [X]                                                                  Accelerated filer [  ]                                            Non-accelerated filer [  ]                                                  Smaller reporting company [  ]

Indicate by check mark if the Registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Act).          Yes [   ]         No [X]

The aggregate market value of voting stock held by non-affiliates (affiliates being for these purposes only directors, executive officers and holders of more than five percent of our outstanding voting
securities) was $8.7 billion as of June 30, 2010.  As of February 28, 2011, there were 305,609,343 shares of the Registrant’s common stock outstanding.
 
 
DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE:

Portions of the Registrant’s Proxy Statement to be furnished in connection with the 2011 annual meeting of shareholders are incorporated by reference in Part III of this Annual Report.

 
 
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Table of Contents
 
   
Page
Part I.
   
Item 1.
Business
4
Item 1A.
Risk Factors
25
Item 1B.
Unresolved Staff Comments
49
Item 2.
Properties
50
Item 3.
Legal Proceedings
51
Item 4.
[Reserved]
52
     
Part II.
   
Item 5.
Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder
    Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities
53
Item 6.
Selected Financial Data
54
Item 7.
Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition
    and Results of Operations
56
Item 7A.
Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk
80
Item 8.
Financial Statements and Supplementary Data
81
Item 9.
Changes in and Disagreements with Accountants on Accounting
    and Financial Disclosure
130
Item 9A.
Controls and Procedures
131
Item 9B.
Other Information
131
     
Part III.
   
Item 10.
Directors, Executive Officers and Corporate Governance
132
Item 11.
Executive Compensation
133
Item 12.
Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management and Related Stockholder Matters
133
Item 13.
Certain Relationships and Related Transactions, and Director Independence
133
Item 14.
Principal Accountant Fees and Services
133
     
Part IV.
   
Item 15.
Exhibits and Financial Statement Schedules
134
 
 
 

 
 
All references herein to “we”, “us”, “our” or “CenturyLink” refer to CenturyLink, Inc. and its consolidated subsidiaries, including, for all references to dates or periods on or after July 1, 2009 (except as otherwise stated herein), Embarq Corporation and its subsidiaries, which we acquired on July 1, 2009.  In addition, “access lines” mean telephone lines that connect homes or businesses to the public switched telephone network; “competitive local exchange carriers,” or “CLECs,” mean telecommunications providers that compete in a particular local service area with the ILEC by providing local voice or other services, frequently by using the ILEC’s network; “FCC” means the Federal Communications Commission; “incumbent local exchange carrier,” or “ILEC,” means a traditional telecommunications provider that, prior to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, had the exclusive right and responsibility for providing local telecommunications services in its local service area; “LEC” means any local exchange carrier; “Notes” means the Notes to the Financial Statements included in Item 8 of this Annual Report or Form 10-K; “SEC” means the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission; “Universal Service Fund,” or “USF,” refers collectively to federal funds established primarily to promote the availability of telecommunications services to all consumers at reasonable and affordable rates; and “Voice Over Internet Protocol,” or “VoIP,” means an application that enables broadband Internet subscribers to engage in two-way voice communication similar to our traditional voice services.
 
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PART I

Item 1.
Business

On July 1, 2009, we acquired Embarq Corporation (“Embarq”) in a transaction that substantially expanded the size and scope of our business, and on April 1, 2011 we expect to acquire Qwest Communications International Inc. (“Qwest”) in a transaction that will similarly impact the size and scope of our business.  Due to the significant size of Embarq, direct comparisons of our recent results of operations or operating data to periods prior to July 1, 2009 are less meaningful than usual because most of the variances are due to the Embarq acquisition.  Similarly, due to the significant size of Qwest, direct comparisons of our future results and data for periods following the upcoming anticipated closing date of the Qwest acquisition to prior periods will be less meaningful than usual for similar reasons.  For additional information on our Embarq acquisition, see “ – Embarq acquisition” below, and for additional information on our pending Qwest acquisition, see “ – Pending acquisition of Qwest” below.

General.    CenturyLink, together with its subsidiaries, is an integrated communications company engaged primarily in providing a broad array of communications services, including voice, Internet, data and video services.  We strive to maintain our customer relationships by, among other things, bundling our service offerings to provide a complete offering of integrated communications services.  We primarily conduct our operations in 33 states located within the continental United States.

At December 31, 2010, our incumbent local exchange telephone subsidiaries operated approximately 6.5 million telephone access lines in 33 states, with over 75% of these lines located in Florida, North Carolina, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Wisconsin, Virginia, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Alabama.  According to published sources, we are currently the fourth largest local exchange telephone company in the United States based on the number of access lines served.

We also provide fiber transport, wholesale communications services, competitive local exchange carrier service, security monitoring and other communications, professional and business information services in certain local and regional markets.

For information on the amount of revenue derived by our various lines of services, see “Operations - Services” below and Item 7 of this annual report.  The financial information included in this Item 1 should be read in conjunction with, and is qualified by reference to, our consolidated financial statements and notes thereto in Item 8 and “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” in Item 7 of this annual report.

Pending acquisition of Qwest.  On April 21, 2010, we entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Qwest in a tax-free stock-for-stock transaction.  Under the terms of the agreement, Qwest shareholders will receive 0.1664 CenturyLink shares for each share of Qwest common stock they own at closing.  CenturyLink shareholders are expected to own approximately 50.5% and Qwest shareholders are expected to own approximately 49.5% of the combined company at closing.  As of December 31, 2010, Qwest had outstanding approximately (i) 1.764 billion shares of common stock and (ii) $11.947 billion of long-term debt.
 
 
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While we have received most of the necessary approvals from state public service commissions, completion of the transaction is still subject to the receipt of approvals from the Federal Communications Commission and several other state public service commissions, as well as other customary closing conditions.  Subject to these conditions, we anticipate closing this transaction on April 1, 2011.  During the process of securing the required state regulatory approvals, we have committed to spend an aggregate of approximately $400 million in capital expenditures over a five-year period to expand our broadband deployment.  We anticipate making additional complementary broadband commitments as part of the FCC approval process to expand broadband deployment in the Qwest fourteen state region.  If the merger agreement is terminated under certain circumstances, we may be obligated to pay Qwest a termination fee of $350 million.

See Item 1A, Risk Factors, for additional information concerning the pending acquisition of Qwest.  Additional information about Qwest is included in documents filed by it with the SEC.  See “Where to find additional information” below.

The foregoing description of the pending Qwest merger is not complete, and is qualified in its entirety by reference to our Current Reports on Form 8-K filed with the SEC on April 22 and April 27, 2010, including the exhibits thereto.
 
Embarq acquisition.  On July 1, 2009, we acquired Embarq, which was spun-off from Sprint Nextel Corporation in 2006, and is currently a wholly-owned subsidiary of CenturyLink.  As a result of this merger transaction, each outstanding share of Embarq common stock was converted into 1.37 shares of CenturyLink common stock, with cash paid in lieu of fractional shares.  In addition to delivering the aggregate merger consideration valued at $6.1 billion, we also assumed approximately $5.1 billion of Embarq’s indebtedness upon the consummation of the transaction.  As of the acquisition date, Embarq served approximately 5.4 million access lines and 1.5 million high-speed Internet customers located in 18 states.

See Item 1A, Risk Factors, for additional information concerning the acquisition of Embarq.  Additional information about Embarq is included elsewhere herein and in documents that it previously filed with the SEC.  See “Where to find additional information” below.

Other recently completed acquisitions.    On April 30, 2007, we acquired all of the outstanding stock of Madison River Communications Corp. (“Madison River”) for approximately $322 million cash.  In connection with the acquisition, we also paid all of Madison River’s existing indebtedness (including accrued interest), which approximated $522 million.  At the time of this acquisition, Madison River operated approximately 164,000 predominantly rural access lines in four states.

In June 2005, we acquired fiber assets in 16 metropolitan markets from KMC Telecom Holdings, Inc. for approximately $75.5 million cash, which has enabled us to offer broadband and competitive local exchange services to customers in these markets.   During 2008, we sold the assets in six of these markets in two separate transactions.
 
 
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We also acquired approximately 660,000, 490,000 and 650,000 telephone access lines in transactions completed in 1997, 2000 and 2002, respectively, each of which substantially expanded our operations.  The 2002 acquisition of telephone access lines was funded primarily from proceeds received from the sale of substantially all of our wireless operations in August 2002.  In addition, in 2003 we acquired fiber transport assets in the central United States that enabled us to significantly expand our wholesale data transport services.

We continually evaluate the possibility of acquiring additional communications assets in exchange for cash, securities or other properties, and at any given time may be engaged in discussions or negotiations regarding additional acquisitions.  We generally do not announce our acquisitions or dispositions until we have entered into a preliminary or definitive agreement.  Although our primary focus will continue to be on acquiring interests that are proximate to our properties or that serve a customer base large enough for us to operate efficiently, we may also acquire other communications interests and these acquisitions could have a material impact upon us.

Where to find additional information.    We make available all of our filings with the SEC (including Forms 10-K, 10-Q and 8-K) on our website (www.centurylink.com) as soon as reasonably practicable after we complete such filings with the SEC.  These documents may also be obtained from the SEC’s website at www.sec.gov.  You may obtain copies of Embarq’s previous filings with the SEC from our website or the SEC’s website.  You may obtain copies of Qwest’s SEC filings from Qwest's website or the SEC’s website.

We also make available on our website our Corporate Governance Guidelines, our corporate ethics and compliance program and the charters of our audit, compensation, risk evaluation, and nominating and corporate governance committees.  We will furnish printed copies of these materials free of charge upon the request of any shareholder.  If a provision of our corporate ethics and compliance program is amended, other than by a technical, administrative or other non-substantive amendment, or a waiver under this program is granted to a director or executive officer, we will post notice of such amendment or waiver on our website or disclose the amendment or waiver in a report on Form 8-K filed with the SEC.  Only our board of directors, or an authorized committee of the board, may consider a waiver of our corporate ethics and compliance program for a director or executive officer.

In connection with filing this annual report, our chief executive officer and chief financial officer made the certifications regarding our financial disclosures required under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, and the Act’s related regulations.  In addition, during 2010 our chief executive officer certified to the New York Stock Exchange that he was unaware of any violation by us of the New York Stock Exchange’s corporate governance listing standards.

Industry information.  Unless otherwise indicated, information contained in this annual report and other documents filed by us under the federal securities laws concerning our views and expectations regarding the communications industry are based on estimates made by us using data from industry sources, and on assumptions made by us based on our management’s knowledge and experience in the markets in which we operate and the communications industry generally.  We believe these estimates and assumptions are accurate as of the date made; however, this information may prove to be inaccurate because it cannot always be verified with certainty.  You should be aware that we have not independently verified data from industry or other third-party sources and cannot guarantee its accuracy or completeness.  Our estimates and assumptions involve risks and uncertainties and are subject to change based on various factors, including those discussed in Item 1A of this annual report.
 
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Other.  As of December 31, 2010, we had approximately 20,300 employees, of which approximately 6,600 were members of 45 different bargaining units represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America.   As of December 31, 2010, five of the union contracts that represent approximately 1,600 employees had expired; however, employees continue to perform their work activities while contract negotiations continue.  An additional 14 union contracts representing approximately 2,500 employees are scheduled to expire in 2011.  We believe that relations with our employees continue to be generally good.  Over the last several years, we announced reductions of our workforce primarily due to (i) progress made on our integration efforts from recent acquisitions (including the recently completed Embarq acquisition); (ii) increased competitive pressures and the loss of access lines over the last several years, and (iii) the elimination of certain customer service personnel due to reduced call volumes.

We were incorporated under Louisiana law in 1968 to serve as a holding company for several telephone companies acquired over the previous 15 to 20 years. Our principal executive offices are located at 100 CenturyLink Drive, Monroe, Louisiana 71203 and our telephone number is (318) 388-9000.
 
OPERATIONS

According to published sources, our acquisition of Embarq on July 1, 2009 positioned us as the fourth largest local exchange telephone company in the United States, based on the approximately 6.5 million access lines we served at December 31, 2010, all of which are digitally switched.

Before the Embarq acquisition, (i) CenturyLink provided local exchange telephone services to predominantly rural areas and small to mid-size cities in 25 states and (ii) Embarq provided local exchange telephone services to a wide variety of markets in 18 states, including Las Vegas, Nevada, and the suburbs of Orlando, Florida and several other large U.S. cities.  At the time of the acquisition, the average population density of CenturyLink’s and Embarq’s local exchange markets was 25 and 94 persons per square mile, respectively.  Although the services provided by each company prior to the acquisition were substantially similar, the merger resulted in several important changes to our operations, including:

 
providing services to an expanded number of densely-populated markets, which tend to afford consumers access to a greater range of competitive communications products than less dense markets and exposes the incumbent telephone service provider to higher levels of service terminations;

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reducing the percentage of our total revenue derived from governmental support programs, which typically focus on disbursing payments to companies operating in less densely-populated areas;

 
expanding and reconfiguring our operating regions to incorporate the Embarq service areas in order to provide day-to-day decision making at the regional level as opposed to Embarq’s prior operating model which operated under a more centralized structure; and

 
offering certain services, such as inmate payphone services, that CenturyLink did not historically provide.

If and when we complete our pending Qwest acquisition, it will result in material changes to our operations, including changes similar to those listed above and changes in our mix of product and service offerings.

The following table lists information (rounded to the nearest thousand lines) regarding our access lines as of December 31, 2010 and December 31, 2009.
 
 
 
December 31, 2010  
 
December 31, 2009
 
   
Number of
   
Percent of
   
Number of
   
Percent of
 
State
 
access lines
   
access lines
   
access lines
   
access lines
 
Florida
    1,234,000       19 %     1,352,000       19 %
North Carolina
    910,000       14       997,000       14  
Missouri
    516,000       8       548,000       8  
Nevada
    463,000       7       523,000       7  
Ohio
    354,000       5       388,000       5  
Wisconsin (1)
    326,000       5       343,000       5  
Virginia
    315,000       5       334,000       5  
Texas
    286,000       4       303,000       4  
Pennsylvania
    252,000       4       271,000       4  
Alabama
    237,000       4       254,000       4  
Washington
    189,000       3       200,000       3  
Indiana
    172,000       3       186,000       3  
Arkansas
    170,000       3       182,000       3  
Tennessee
    162,000       2       176,000       2  
Minnesota
    133,000       2       144,000       2  
New Jersey
    130,000       2       145,000       2  
Oregon
    102,000       2       109,000       2  
All other states (2)
    553,000       8       584,000       8  
      6,504,000       100 %     7,039,000       100 %
(1)
As of December 31, 2010 and 2009, approximately 43,000 and 45,000, respectively, of these lines were owned and operated by our 89%-owned affiliate.
(2)
Includes all of the remaining 16 states in which we operate, each of which has less than 100,000 access lines served.
 
    The following table summarizes certain information related to our customer base, operating revenues and capital expenditures for the past five years.  The 2010 and 2009 information includes the impact of the Embarq operations we acquired on July 1, 2009.  Periods subsequent to April 30, 2007 include the impact of the Madison River properties we acquired on April 30, 2007.

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Year ended or as of December 31,
 
   
2010
   
2009
   
2008
   
2007
   
2006
 
   
(Dollars in thousands)
 
                               
Access lines
    6,504,000       7,039,000       2,025,000       2,135,000       2,094,000  
% Residential
    67 %     68       73       73       74  
% Business
    33 %     32       27       27       26  
Internet customers
    2,410,000       2,259,000       683,000       623,000       459,000  
% High-speed Internet service
    99 %     99       94       89       80  
% Dial-up service
    1 %     1       6       11       20  
                                         
Operating revenues
  $ 7,041,534       4,974,239       2,599,747       2,656,241       2,447,730  
Capital expenditures
  $ 863,769       754,544       286,817       326,045       314,071  
 
As discussed further below, during the last several years (exclusive of acquisitions and certain non-recurring favorable adjustments), we have experienced declines in our voice and network access revenues primarily due to declines in access lines, intrastate access rates, minutes of use, and federal support fund payments.  In an attempt to mitigate these declines, we plan to, among other things, continue to (i) promote long-term relationships with our customers through bundling of integrated services, (ii) provide new services, such as video and other additional services that may become available in the future due to advances in technology, wireless spectrum sales by the FCC, improvements in our infrastructure, or agency or reselling arrangements with other carriers, (iii) provide our special access, broadband and premium services to a higher percentage of our customers, (iv) pursue acquisitions of additional communications properties if available at attractive prices, (v) increase usage of our networks and (vi) market our products and services to new customers.  See “Services” and “Regulation and Competition” for additional information.

Services

We derive revenue from providing (i) local exchange and long distance voice telephone services, (ii) data services, including high-speed Internet services, as well as special access and private line services, (iii) wholesale local network access services, and (iv) other related services (as more fully described below). The following table reflects the percentage of operating revenues derived from each of these services:
 
   
2010
   
2009
   
2008
 
                   
Voice
    44.6 %     43.6       40.1  
Data
    27.1       24.2       20.2  
Network access
    15.3       18.6       25.0  
Other
    13.0       13.6       14.7  
      100.0 %     100.0       100.0  
 
Voice.  We offer local calling service to residential and business customers within our local service areas, generally for a fixed monthly charge.  While we have achieved significant pricing deregulation over time, the maximum amount that we can charge a customer for local calling services is still largely governed by state and federal regulatory authorities and by our competitors.  We offer a number of enhanced voice services (such as call forwarding, caller identification, conference calling, voicemail, selective call ringing and call waiting) to our local exchange customers for an additional monthly fee.  At December 31, 2010, approximately 68% of both our business and residential customers subscribed to one or more enhanced services.  We also offer long distance services to our customers based on either usage or pursuant to flat-rate calling plans.  We anticipate that most of our long distance service will continue to be provided as part of an integrated bundle with our other service offerings, including our local exchange telephone service offering.
 
 
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Total access lines declined 535,000 (7.6%) during 2010 compared to a decline of 380,000 during 2009 (excluding access lines we acquired from Embarq on July 1, 2009 but including access lines lost in Embarq’s markets following such acquisition).  We believe these declines in the number of access lines were primarily due to the displacement of traditional wireline telephone services by other competitive services and recent economic conditions.  Over the last few years, our recently-acquired Embarq markets have experienced higher rates of access line losses than our incumbent markets due principally to such markets being more densely-populated and competitive.  Based on our current retention initiatives, we estimate that our access line loss will be between 7.0% and 7.5% in 2011 (excluding access lines acquired upon consummation of the pending Qwest acquisition and access lines lost in Qwest’s markets following such acquisition).
 
Data.  We derive our data revenues primarily from monthly recurring charges for providing (i) high-speed Internet access services, which is also referred to as “broadband” data service, (ii) data transmission services over special circuits and private lines, which we market to business customers who require dedicated equipment to transmit large amounts of data between sites, and (iii) switched digital television services.  At December 31, 2010, approximately 92% of our access lines were broadband-enabled and we provided high-speed Internet access services to approximately 2.4 million customers.  During 2010, we added approximately 158,000 high-speed Internet customers.

We offer a range of data services to businesses, long distance carriers, wireless carriers and CLECs.  Our special access data service consists of providing dedicated circuits connecting other carriers’ networks to their customers’ locations, wireless carriers’ cell towers to mobile switching centers, or business customers to our network.  Although the traffic handled through special access facilities may include voice as well as data, we report revenues associated with special access as data revenue.

    In late 2005, we began providing switched digital television service through our own facilities in a limited number of our operating markets.  Currently, we provide these services in LaCrosse, Wisconsin; Columbia, Missouri; Jefferson City, Missouri; Las Vegas, Nevada and Fort Myers, Florida.  The access lines that we serve in these markets represent less than 20% of our total access lines at December 31, 2010.  We incur a sizable amount of start-up costs when we launch our switched digital television service to new markets.  We expect to launch this service to additional markets in the near future.  Should the customer acceptance rate not meet expected levels or the start-up costs exceed our current projections, our results of operations may be more adversely impacted in the future than our current expectations.


Network access.  We derive our network access revenues primarily from (i) providing wholesale services to various carriers and customers in connection with the use of our facilities to originate and terminate their interstate and intrastate voice transmissions; (ii) receiving universal support funds which allows us to recover a portion of our costs under federal and state cost recovery mechanisms (as described further below under the heading “Regulation and Competition Relating to Incumbent Local Exchange Operations”), (iii) receiving reciprocal compensation from CLECs and wireless service providers for terminating their calls on our networks and (iv) offering certain network facilities and related services to CLECs.  Our revenues for switched access services depend primarily on the level of call volumes.
 
 
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Substantially all of our interstate network access revenues are based on tariffed access charges prescribed by the FCC.  Certain of our intrastate network access revenues are derived through access charges that we bill to intrastate long distance carriers and other LEC customers. Such intrastate network access charges are based on tariffed access charges, which are subject to state regulatory commission approval. Additionally, certain of our intrastate network access revenues, along with intrastate and intra-LATA (Local Access and Transport Areas) long distance revenues, are derived through revenue sharing arrangements with other LECs.

Pursuant to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, we offer certain network facilities to CLEC’s on a resale or unbundled basis and allow them to collocate certain of their equipment in our central offices.  The FCC sets general guidelines for pricing of resale, unbundled network elements and collocation agreements, while the state regulatory authorities approve the actual prices charged.

Other.  We derive our “other revenues” principally by (i) providing fiber transport, CLEC and security monitoring services, (ii) leasing, selling, installing and maintaining customer premise telecommunications equipment and wiring, (iii) providing payphone services primarily within our local service territories and at various state and county correctional facilities around the country, (iv) participating in the publication of local telephone directories, which allows us to share in revenues generated by the sale of yellow page and related advertising to businesses, (v) providing network database services and (vi) offering our new services described below under the heading “Recent Product Developments”.  We also provide printing, direct mail services and cable television services.

We sell fiber capacity to other carriers and businesses over a network that encompassed, at December 31, 2010, approximately 13,900 miles of fiber in the central United States.  We began our fiber transport business during 2001 and expanded it by acquiring various fiber transport assets in 2003 and 2007, which enabled us to expand our fiber network business and further reduce our reliance on third-party transport providers.

During 2008, we paid an aggregate of approximately $149 million for 69 licenses in the FCC’s auction of 700 megahertz wireless spectrum.  Our plan has been to use the spectrum to develop wireless voice and data service capabilities in our markets, built upon LTE (Long-Term Evolution) technology.  The LTE network deployment plans of larger wireless carriers are driving most vendor activity, including the availability of handsets and other end-user devices.  Therefore, we are monitoring their deployment efforts to help shape our plans for moving forward. 

From time to time, we also make investments in other communications companies.

For further information on regulatory, technological and competitive changes that could impact our revenues, see “Regulation and Competition” under this Item 1 below and “Risk Factors and Cautionary Statements” under Item 1A below.  For more information on the financial contributions of our various services, see Item 7 of this annual report.
 
 
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Recent Product Developments

In late 2010, we signed an agency agreement with DIRECTV that allows us to offer its satellite television service to our residential customers throughout our 33-state service area.  Between 2005 and late 2010, we had a similar arrangement with DISH Network Corporation to offer similar services.

    Pursuant to a five-year agency agreement with Verizon Wireless entered into in late 2010, we plan to market, sell and bill for Verizon wireless voice services under its brand name, primarily to customers who buy these services as part of a bundle including one or more of our other products and services.  Subject to several exceptions, we are prohibited under the agreement from (i) selling any other wireless services in Verizon Wireless’ markets on behalf of a third party and (ii) engaging in certain other competitive activities.

Federal Financing Programs

Some of our telephone subsidiaries receive long-term financing from the Rural Utilities Service, a federal agency that has historically provided long-term financing to telephone companies at relatively attractive interest rates.  For additional information regarding our financings, see our consolidated financial statements included in Item 8 herein.

Sales and Marketing
 
Following our acquisition of Embarq on July 1, 2009, we began using the trade name “CenturyLink.”  We formally changed our legal name to “CenturyLink, Inc.” in May 2010 upon approval of the name change by our shareholders.  In addition, our satellite television service is offered on a co-branded basis under the “DIRECTV” name.  Our switched digital television service offering is branded under the name “PRISM”.  The wireless service that we plan to offer under our agency agreement with Verizon Wireless will be marketed under the Verizon brand name.
 
 
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We maintain local offices in most of the larger population centers within our service territories.  These offices provide sales and customer support services in the community.  We also rely on our call center personnel to promote sales of services that meet the needs of our customers.  Our strategy is to enhance our communications services by offering comprehensive bundling of services and deploying new technologies to build upon the strong reputation we enjoy in our markets and to further enhance customer loyalty.

Our consumer marketing approach emphasizes customer-oriented sales, marketing and service with a local presence.  We market our products and services primarily through direct sales representatives, local retail stores, telemarketing and third parties.  We support our distribution with direct mail, bill inserts, newspaper advertising, website promotions, public relations activities and sponsorship of community events.  Our business marketing approach includes a commitment to deliver communications solutions that meet existing and future business customer needs through bundles of services and integrated service offerings, focusing on comprehensive customer communications solutions for small businesses to large enterprise customers.

Network Architecture
 
Most of our products and services are provided using our telecommunications network, which consists of voice and data switches, copper cables, fiber-optic broadband cables and other equipment.  Our local exchange carrier networks also include central office hosts and remote sites, all with advanced digital switches and operating with licensed software.  Our outside plant consists of transport and distribution delivery networks connecting each of our host central offices to our remote central offices, and ultimately to our customers.  As of December 31, 2010, we maintained over 595,000 miles of copper plant and approximately 73,000 miles of fiber optic plant in our local exchange networks.  Our fiber optic cable is the primary transport technology between our host and remote central offices and interconnection points with other incumbent carriers.  Most of our long distance service is provided through reselling arrangements with other long distance carriers, with the balance being provided directly through CenturyLink’s own switches and network equipment.   All of our satellite television and wireless voice service is provided by other carriers under agency agreements.

In our markets, high-speed Internet-enabled technologies are being deployed to provide significant broadband capacity to our customers.  We continue to expand and enhance the capabilities of our network to offer high-speed Internet service to more customers.  At the end of 2010, approximately 92% of our access lines were capable of providing high-speed Internet service to our customers.

We also maintain networks in connection with providing fiber transport and CLEC services.

Rapid and significant changes in technology are expected in the communications industry.  Our future success will depend, in part, on our ability to anticipate and adapt to technological changes.

Regulation and Competition Relating to Incumbent Local Exchange Operations

General. Traditionally, LECs operated as regulated monopolies having the exclusive right and responsibility to provide local telephone services in their franchised service territories.  Consequently, most of our intrastate telephone operations have been regulated extensively by various state regulatory agencies (generally called public service commissions or public utility commissions) and our interstate operations have been regulated by the FCC under the Communications Act of 1934.  As we discuss in greater detail below, passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, coupled with state legislative and regulatory initiatives and technological changes, fundamentally altered the telephone industry by generally reducing the regulation of ILECs and creating a substantial increase in the number of competitors. We anticipate that these trends toward reduced regulation and increased competition will continue.
 
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The following description discusses some of the major industry regulations that affect our traditional telephone operations, but numerous other regulations not discussed below could also impact us.  Some legislation and regulations are currently the subject of judicial proceedings, legislative hearings and administrative proceedings which could substantially change the manner in which the communications industry operates and the amount of revenue we receive for our services.  Neither the outcome of these proceedings, nor their potential impact on us, can be predicted at this time.  The impact of regulatory changes in the communications industry could have a substantial impact on our operations.  See Item 1A of this annual report below.
 
State regulation.  In recent years, most states have substantially reduced their regulation of ILECs.  Nonetheless, state regulatory commissions generally continue to regulate the local service rates and intrastate access charges of ILECs, and continue to grant and revoke certifications authorizing companies to provide communications services.  State commissions traditionally regulated pricing through “rate of return” regulation that focused on authorized levels of earnings by LECs.  Only a few states (representing a small portion of our access lines) continue to regulate us in this manner.  In most of our states, we are generally regulated under various forms of alternative regulation that typically limit our ability to increase rates for local services, but relieve us from the requirement to meet certain earnings tests.  In a few states, we have recently gained pricing freedom for the majority of retail services except for the most basic of services, such as stand-alone basic residential service.  In most of the states in which we operate, we have gained pricing flexibility for certain enhanced calling services, such as caller identification, and for bundled services that include local voice service.  State commissions periodically conduct proceedings to review the rates that we charge other telecommunications providers for using our network or reselling our service, and those proceedings can result in reductions in our revenues.

As an ILEC, we generally face “carrier of last resort” obligations which include an ongoing requirement to provide service to all prospective and current customers in our service territories who request service and are willing to pay rates prescribed in our tariffs.  In competitively-bid situations, such as newly-constructed housing developments or multi-tenant dwellings, this may constitute a competitive disadvantage to us if competitors can choose to focus on low-risk profitable customers and withhold service from high-risk unprofitable customers.  Strict adherence to carrier of last resort requirements may force us to construct facilities with a low likelihood of positive economic return.  In certain cases, we seek to mitigate these risks by receiving regulatory approval to use less costly alternative technologies, such as fixed wireless, or by sharing network construction costs with our customers.  In addition, a few of our states provide relief from these obligations under certain specific circumstances, and in certain areas our costs to build and maintain network infrastructure are partially offset by payments from universal service programs.
 
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    We are responding to carrier complaints, legislation or generic investigations regarding our intrastate switched access rate levels in several of our states.  In particular, certain long distance providers have begun to dispute existing intercarrier compensation rates payable to us and other ILECs with respect to VoIP traffic or to refuse to pay such rates, based on the contention that tariffed switched access charges should not apply to VoIP originated and terminated traffic.  Although outcomes cannot be determined at this time, we believe our intrastate switched access rate levels are appropriate and we plan to vigorously defend them. If we are required to reduce our intrastate switched access rates as a result of any of these initiatives, we will seek to recover displaced switched access revenues from state universal service funds or other services.  However, the amount of such recovery, if any, is not assured.

Under state law, our telephone operating subsidiaries are typically governed by laws and regulations that (i) regulate the purchase and sale of LECs, (ii) prescribe depreciation rates and certain accounting procedures, (iii) require LECs to provide service under publicly-filed tariffs setting forth the terms, conditions and prices of regulated services, (iv) limit LECs’ ability to borrow and establish asset liens (v) regulate transactions between LECs and their affiliates, and (vi) impose various other service standards.

For a discussion of legislative, regulatory and technological changes that have introduced competition into the local exchange industry, see “Developments Affecting Competition.”

Federal regulation. Our telephone subsidiaries are required to comply with the Communications Act of 1934, which requires us to offer services at just and reasonable rates and on non-discriminatory terms, as well as the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which amended the Communications Act to promote competition.

The FCC regulates interstate services provided by our telephone subsidiaries primarily by regulating the interstate access charges that we bill to long distance companies, other communications companies and end users for use of our network in connection with the origination and termination of interstate voice and data transmissions. Additionally, the FCC has prescribed certain rules and regulations for telephone companies, including a uniform system of accounts and rules regarding the separation of costs between jurisdictions and, ultimately, between interstate services.  In addition, the FCC has responsibility for maintaining and administering the federal Universal Service Fund, or USF.  LECs must obtain FCC approval to use certain radio frequencies, or to transfer control of any such licenses.  The FCC retains the right to revoke these licenses if a carrier materially violates relevant legal requirements.

The FCC requires price-cap regulation of interstate access rates for the Regional Bell Operating Companies, and permits it for all other LECs. Under price-cap regulation, limits imposed on a company’s interstate rates are adjusted periodically to reflect inflation, productivity improvement and changes in certain non-controllable costs.  On July 1, 2009, we converted substantially all of our remaining rate-of-return study areas to price cap regulation.  In addition, all of the properties we acquired from Embarq operate under price- cap regulation.

The FCC is currently reviewing the rates and terms under which ILECs provide special access services.  The FCC is also reviewing requests by some other carriers to order reductions in some or all ILECs’ rates for special access services.  It is uncertain whether or how the FCC might order changes in how special access services are regulated, or in the rates ILECs are able to charge for them.  If the FCC were to adopt significant changes in regulations affecting special access services, the proceeding could have an impact on our provision and pricing of special access services.
 
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Beginning in 2003, the FCC initiated a series of broad intercarrier compensation proceedings designed to create a uniform mechanism to be used by the entire telecommunications industry for payments between carriers originating, terminating, or carrying telecommunications traffic.  In connection therewith, the FCC has received intercarrier compensation proposals from several industry groups, and solicited public comments on a variety of topics related to access charges and intercarrier compensation.  Most recently, on February 8, 2011, the FCC sought comments from the public on proposals designed to lower intercarrier compensation rates.  The ultimate outcome of the FCC’s intercarrier compensation proceedings could change the way we receive compensation from, and remit compensation to, other carriers, our end user customers and the USF.  As discussed further in Item 1A of this annual report, these changes could substantially reduce the amount of revenues we receive with respect to various services.

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the “Recovery Act”), in early 2010 the FCC released its National Broadband Plan, which is the FCC’s framework to develop a comprehensive plan over the next decade for broadband deployment, intercarrier compensation reform and regulatory reform initiatives such as reformation of the USF high cost support fund.  As originally proposed, the Plan is likely to reduce our USF support and network access revenues over a reasonable transition period.  Since releasing the Plan, the FCC has undertaken various studies and solicited public input on a variety of issues, including its proposal to replace the current legacy USF high cost support fund with a new fund to support the provision of broadband services in areas that are unserved or underserved.  Our markets that meet the unserved or underserved criteria may be recipients of USF to advance broadband deployment.  The Plan is a blueprint at this time and is subject to change as a result of public input, Congressional action or further regulatory action. Given the relatively early stages of the FCC’s proceedings, we cannot predict the ultimate outcome nor can we be assured that such Plan will not have a material adverse effect on us or our industry in the future.

The Recovery Act also includes certain broadband initiatives that are intended to accelerate broadband deployment across the United States. The Recovery Act approved $7.2 billion in funding for broadband stimulus projects across the United States to be administered by two governmental agencies.  The programs implemented by the two agencies are expected to provide grants and loans to applicants for construction of certain broadband infrastructure, provision of certain broadband services, and support of certain broadband adoption initiatives.  This program has attracted a wide range of applicants including states, municipalities, start-up companies and consortiums.  We have not applied for funding under the Recovery Act programs.  The participation of other parties in these programs could increase competition in selected areas, which may increase our marketing costs and decrease our revenues in those areas.  We cannot at this time estimate the impact these programs may have on our operations.
 
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For several years, we have been working with other carriers to develop proposals that would advance universal broadband deployment while reforming intercarrier compensation and universal service funding at the same time and we plan to continue these efforts.  We cannot predict what part, if any, of these proposals will ultimately be adopted.

Our operations and those of all communications carriers also may be impacted by legislation and regulation imposing new or greater obligations on us.  The most likely areas of impact include regulations or laws related to bolstering homeland security, increasing disaster recovery requirements, minimizing environmental impacts, enhancing privacy, or addressing other issues that impact our business, including the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, and laws governing local number portability and customer proprietary network information requirements.  These laws and regulations may cause us to incur additional costs and could impact our ability to compete effectively.

Universal service support fund and related matters. A number of our telephone subsidiaries recover a portion of their costs from the federal USF and from similar state “universal support” mechanisms, which receive their funding from fees charged to interexchange carriers and LECs.  Disbursements from these programs traditionally have focused principally on allowing LECs serving small communities and rural areas to provide communications services on terms and at prices reasonably comparable to those available in urban areas.  However, use of universal service funding for other social policy goals continues to grow and to exert pressure on the size of the fund and the contribution rate.

During 2010, we received approximately $430.6 million (which includes a full year of receipts related to our Embarq properties acquired July 1, 2009) of receipts from federal and state universal service programs as compared to $384.9 million in 2009 (which only includes a half year of receipts related to our Embarq properties).  Such amounts represented approximately 6.1% and 7.7% of our 2010 and 2009 total operating revenues, respectively.  A significant portion of our payments have varied over time based on our average cost to serve customers compared to national cost averages.  Under the USF High Cost Loop program, which is the USF’s principal program from which we received $109.3 million in 2010, our payments from the USF will decrease if national average costs per loop increase at a rate greater than our average cost per loop.  Excluding the effects of the additional six months of receipts recorded in 2010 as compared to 2009 due to the July 1, 2009 Embarq acquisition, our revenues from the USF High Cost Loop program decreased in 2010 compared to 2009.  We anticipate that such revenues will continue to decline in 2011.  See Items 1A and 7 of this annual report for more information.

Federal USF programs have undergone substantial changes since 1997, and are expected to experience more changes in the coming years.  Since May 2001, the FCC has administered its existing universal service support programs for rural telephone companies based on embedded, or historical, costs.  The FCC, in April 2010, proposed to replace the USF with a broadband “Connect America” fund that would modernize the current “voice only” funding mechanism and direct funding away from local voice services to advance broadband deployment in areas unserved or underserved by broadband communications, and in February 2011 sought public comments regarding creating this new broadband fund.
 
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Universal service funds available to ILECs are currently available to local competitors that (i) certify they will serve all customers in a study area, (ii) offer nine core services, and (iii) qualify as an “eligible telecommunications carrier.”  Wireless and other competitive service providers continue to seek to qualify to receive USF funds although funding for these carriers is undergoing reform.  This trend, coupled with changes in usage of telecommunications services, has placed stress on the funding mechanism of the USF, which is subject to annual caps on disbursements.  As a result of these developments, there is no assurance that sufficient funds will be available to provide funding to all eligible telecommunications carriers.

    Over the past few years, each of the FCC, Universal Service Administrative Company (“USAC”) and certain Congressional committees has initiated wide-ranging reviews of the administration of the federal USF.  As part of this process, we, along with a number of other USF recipients, have undergone a number of USF audits and have also received requests for information from the FCC’s Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) and Congressional committees.  In addition, in July 2008 we received a subpoena from the OIG requesting a broad range of information regarding our depreciation rates and methodologies since 2000, and in July 2009 we received a second subpoena requesting information about our participation in the E-rate program for Wisconsin schools and libraries since 2004.  The OIG has not identified to us any specific issues with respect to our participation in the USF program and all USAC audits are finalized with no material issued reported regarding our participation in the USF program.  During 2010, USAC moved from the audit process to a Payment Quality Assessment (“PQA”) program.  We continue to receive and respond to these PQAs and to date no material issues have been identified.  While we believe our participation is in compliance with FCC rules and in accordance with accepted industry practices, we cannot predict with certainty the timing or outcome of these various reviews.

In 2004, the FCC mandated changes in the administration of the universal service programs that temporarily suspended the disbursement of funds under the USF’s E-rate program (for service to Schools and Libraries), and, more significantly, created uncertainty regarding whether these administrative changes could similarly delay the disbursement of funds to ILECs from the Universal Service High Cost Loop support program.  Congress has passed bills in recent years granting successive one-year exemptions from the federal law that impacted the E-rate program, including a bill extending the exemption through December 31, 2011.  Although we expect funding from this program to continue, we cannot assure you that the lack of a definitive resolution of this issue will not delay or impede the disbursement of funds in the future.

Several states in which we operate have established their own universal service programs.  In 2010, we received support totaling approximately $118.9 million from various state universal service programs (or approximately 27.6% of our total federal and state support payments), with the largest amounts received in Texas, Louisiana and Kansas.  Several states have recently implemented and expanded state universal service programs and several are currently reviewing their state universal service fund programs, which could change the support we receive.
 
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Some of our telephone subsidiaries operate in states where traditional cost recovery mechanisms, including rate structures, are under evaluation or have been modified. See “ State Regulation.”  There can be no assurance that these states will continue to provide for cost recovery at current levels.

Developments affecting competition.  Over the past decade, fundamental technological, regulatory and legislative changes have significantly impacted the communications industry, and we expect these changes will continue.  Primarily as a result of regulatory and technological changes, competition has been introduced and encouraged in each sector of the communications industry in recent years.  As a result, we increasingly face competition from other communication service providers, as further described below.

Wireless telephone services increasingly constitute a significant source of competition with ILEC services, especially since wireless carriers have begun to compete effectively on the basis of price with more traditional telephone services.  As a result, some customers have chosen to completely forego use of traditional wireline phone service and instead rely solely on wireless service for voice services.  This trend is more pronounced among residential customers, which comprise 67% of our access line customers.  We anticipate this trend will continue, particularly if wireless service providers continue to expand their coverage areas, reduce their rates, improve the quality of their services, and offer enhanced new services.  Substantially all of our access line customers are currently capable of receiving wireless services from at least one competitive service provider.  We believe that our new agency agreement with Verizon Wireless may assist us in retaining customers by enabling us to offer Verizon Wireless service as part of our service bundles.  Technological and regulatory developments in wireless services, personal communications services, digital microwave, satellite, coaxial cable, fiber optics, local multipoint distribution services, WiFi, and other wired and wireless technologies are expected to further permit the development of alternatives to traditional landline services.  Moreover, the growing prevalence of electronic mail, text messaging, social networking, and similar digital communications continues to reduce the demand for traditional landline voice services.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996, which obligates ILECs to permit competitors to interconnect their facilities to the ILEC’s network and to take various other steps that are designed to promote competition, imposes several duties on an ILEC if it receives a specific request from another entity which seeks to connect with or provide services using the ILEC’s network.  In addition, each ILEC is obligated to (i) negotiate interconnection agreements in good faith, (ii) provide nondiscriminatory “unbundled” access to all aspects of the ILEC’s network, (iii) offer resale of its telecommunications services at wholesale rates and (iv) permit competitors, on terms and conditions (including rates) that are just, reasonable and nondiscriminatory, to collocate their physical plant on the ILEC’s property, or provide virtual collocation if physical collocation is not practicable.  Current FCC rules require ILECs to lease a network element only in those situations where competing carriers genuinely would be impaired without access to such network elements, and where the unbundling would not interfere with the development of facilities-based competition.
 
 
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As a result of these regulatory, consumer and technological developments, ILECs also face competition from CLECs, particularly in densely populated areas.  CLECs provide competing services through reselling the ILECs’ local services, through use of the ILECs’ unbundled network elements or through their own facilities.

As noted above, wireless and other competitive services providers have been increasingly aggressive in seeking and obtaining USF support funds.  This support is likely to encourage additional competitors to enter our high-cost service areas.

Technological developments have led to the development of new services that compete with traditional ILEC services.  Technological improvements have enabled cable television companies to provide traditional circuit-switched telephone service over their cable networks, and several national cable companies have aggressively pursued this opportunity.  As of December 31, 2010, we believe that approximately 70% of our access lines faced competition from cable voice offerings.

Improvements in the quality of VoIP service have led several cable, Internet, data and other communications companies, as well as start-up companies, to substantially increase their offerings of VoIP service to business and residential customers.  VoIP providers frequently offer features that cannot readily be provided by traditional ILECs and may price their services at or below those prices currently charged for traditional local and long distance telephone services for several reasons, including lower operating costs and regulatory advantages.  Although over the past several years the FCC has increasingly subjected portions of VoIP operations to federal regulation, VoIP services currently operate under fewer regulatory constraints than LEC services.  For all these reasons, we cannot assure you that VoIP providers will not successfully compete for our customers.

In December 2010, the FCC adopted an order imposing “network neutrality” rules that it believes will preserve the openness of the Internet.  The rules apply to all providers of wireline broadband Internet access services, and, to a lesser extent, providers of wireless broadband Internet access services.  The rules do not apply to providers of applications, content or other services.  The order provides that (i) wireline broadband providers may not block lawful traffic, applications, services or non-harmful devices, subject to reasonable network management practices, (ii) wireless broadband providers may not block lawful websites and competing voice and video telephony services, subject to reasonable network management practices, (iii) wireline broadband providers may not engage in “unreasonable discrimination,” and (iv) all wireline or wireless broadband providers must disclose their network management practices, performance and commercial terms.  The order indicates that broadband providers can price their services based on usage, subject to continued FCC oversight.  Assuming the order is not overturned, amended or stayed by the U.S. Congress or the courts, we believe the impact of the order on us may depend in part on how the order is implemented by the FCC and interpreted by the courts.
 
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Our industry has witnessed an increase in disputes about the intercarrier compensation rules applicable to various categories of traffic exchanged between carriers.  These disputes are subject to review by the FCC, state commissions and federal courts.  Rulings in such proceedings, whether or not we are a party, may influence our exposure to disputes about our wholesale charges or to claims against us for prior wholesale billings.  We cannot assure you that regulatory or court rulings on such issues will not have a material adverse effect on us or our industry.

Similar to us, many cable, technology or other communications companies that previously offered a limited range of services are now offering diversified bundles of services, either through their own networks, reselling arrangements or joint ventures.  As such, a growing number of companies are competing to serve the communications needs of the same customer base.   Such activities will continue to place downward pressure on the demand for our access lines and the pricing of our services.

In addition to facing direct competition from those providers described above, ILECs increasingly face competition from alternate communication systems constructed by long distance carriers, large customers or alternative access vendors.  These systems are capable of originating or terminating calls without use of the ILECs’ networks or switching services.  Other potential sources of competition include non-carrier systems that are capable of bypassing ILECs’ local networks, either partially or completely, through various means, including the provision of special access or independent switching services and the concentration of telecommunications traffic on a few of the ILECs’ access lines.  We anticipate that all these trends will continue and lead to decreased use of our networks.

Significant competitive factors in the local telephone industry include pricing, packaging of services and features, quality and convenience of service and meeting customer needs such as simplified billing and timely response to service calls.

As the telephone industry increasingly experiences competition, the size and resources of each respective competitor may increasingly influence its prospects.  Some companies currently providing or planning to provide competitive communication services have substantially greater financial and marketing resources than we do or own larger or more diverse networks than ours.  In addition, many of them are not subject to the same regulatory constraints we are.  Consequently, some competitors may be able to charge lower prices for their products and services, develop and expand their communications and network infrastructure more quickly, adapt more swiftly to new or emerging technologies and changes in customer requirements and devote greater resources to the marketing and sale of their products and services than we can.

Competition can harm us by causing us to lose customers, or by causing us to lower prices or increase our capital or operating expenses to retain customers.  Competing communications services, such as wireless, VoIP, electronic mail, text messaging and optional calling services, can also reduce usage of our network and thereby decrease our network access revenues.  Competition can also cause customers to reduce either usage of our services or switch to less profitable services, and could impede our ability to diversify into new lines of business dominated by incumbent providers.
 
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We anticipate that the traditional operations of LECs will continue to be impacted by changes in regulation, technology, and consumer preferences affecting the ability of LECs to attract and retain customers and the capability of wireless companies, CLECs, cable television companies, VoIP providers, electric utilities and others to provide competitive LEC services. Competition relating to traditional LEC services has thus far affected large urban areas to a greater extent than less dense areas.

Exclusive of acquisitions, we expect our operating revenues in 2011 to decline as we continue to experience downward pressure primarily due to continued access line losses, reduced universal service funding and lower network access revenues.   We expect such declines to be partially offset primarily due to increased demand for our high-speed Internet service offering and special access services.
 
Regulation and Competition Relating to Other Operations

Long Distance Operations.  We offer intra-LATA, intrastate and interstate long distance voice services.  State public service commissions generally regulate intra-LATA toll calls within the same LATA and inter-LATA toll calls between different LATAs located in the same state.  Federal regulators have jurisdiction over interstate toll calls.  Recent state regulatory changes have increased competition to provide intra-LATA toll services in our local exchange markets.  Competition for intrastate and interstate long distance services has been intense for several years, and focuses primarily on price and pricing plans, and secondarily on customer service, reliability and communications quality.  Our principal competitors for providing long distance services include wireless companies offering attractively-priced calling plans, as well as large national carriers, regional phone companies, cable companies and dial-around resellers.  Technological substitutions, including VoIP, text messaging and electronic mail, have further reduced demand for traditional long distance voice services.  To counter such competition, we now offer unlimited long distance calling plans.

Data Operations.  In connection with our data business, we face competition from Internet service providers, satellite companies and cable companies which use wired or wireless technologies to offer high-speed broadband services.  As of December 31, 2010, we believe approximately 85% of our local exchange markets were overlapped by cable systems offering data services competitive with ours.  Many of these competitors offer content or other features that we cannot match.   Moreover, many of these providers have traditionally been subject to less rigorous regulatory scrutiny than our subsidiaries, a trend that was recently reaffirmed when the FCC issued in December 2010 “network neutrality” rules that regulate mobile broadband operators less rigorously than our wireline providers.  Additionally, the federal broadband stimulus programs discussed above could result in greater competition in some of our markets.  During 2006, all of CenturyLink’s and Embarq’s operating companies elected to either deregulate or detariff their high-speed Internet services, which decreased regulatory oversight and increased our retail pricing flexibility.
 
 
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Fiber Transport Operations.  When our fiber transport networks are used to provide intrastate telecommunications services, we must comply with state requirements for telecommunications utilities, including state tariffing requirements.  To the extent our facilities are used to provide interstate communications, we are subject to federal regulation as a non-dominant common carrier.  Our primary competitors in the fiber transport industry are from other communications companies, some of whom operate networks and have resources much larger than ours.   Over the last few years, several large communications companies have merged and have implemented strategies to transfer a significant portion of their voice and data traffic from our fiber network to their networks.  We expect this trend to continue as companies seek opportunities to reduce their transport-related costs.  In addition, new IP-based services may enable new entrants to transport data at prices lower than we currently offer.

CLEC Operations.  Competitive local exchange carriers are subject to certain reporting and other regulatory requirements imposed by the FCC and state public service commissions, although the degree of regulation is much less substantial than that imposed on ILECs operating in the same markets.  Local governments also frequently require competitive local exchange carriers to obtain licenses or franchises regulating the use of rights-of-way necessary to install and operate their networks.  In each of our limited number of CLEC markets, we face competition from the ILEC, which traditionally has long-standing relationships with its customers.  Over time, we may also face competition from one or more other CLECs, or from other communications providers who can provide comparable services.

Other Operations.  Similar to our CLEC business, we may be required to obtain licenses or franchises to enter new markets for our switched digital television and wireless broadband services, which could delay our rollout of these offerings.  Both the video and wireless broadband markets have been highly competitive in recent years.  In particular, television service providers have recently had to compete against Internet video services, some of which are free.  This development could constrain our ability to attract and retain paying customers for our switched digital television service offering.  In reselling Verizon Wireless services, we compete with national and regional wireless carriers, as well as other sales agents and resellers.

Environmental Compliance

As discussed in greater detail in Item 3 of this Annual Report on Form 10-K, several decades ago one of our subsidiaries acquired entities that may have owned or operated seven former “manufactured gas” plant sites that may require environmental remediation.  From time to time we may incur other environmental compliance and remediation expenses, mainly resulting from the ownership of other prior industrial sites or the operation of vehicle fleets or power supplies for our communications equipment. Although we cannot assess with certainty the impact of any future compliance and remediation obligations, we do not believe that future environmental compliance and remediation expenditures will have a material adverse effect on our financial condition or results of operations.
 
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Patents, Trademarks and Licenses

We own several patents, patent applications, trade names, service marks and trademarks in the U.S., including our “CenturyLink” and “PRISM” brand names.  Our services often use the intellectual property of others, including licensed software.  We occasionally license our intellectual property to others.

We have incurred claims in the past, and may in the future incur claims alleging that we infringe on the intellectual property of others.  These claims can be time-consuming and costly to defend and divert management resources.  If these claims are successful, we could be forced to pay significant damages or stop selling certain products or services.

Seasonality

Overall, our business is not significantly impacted by seasonality.  However, in our Florida markets, we typically experience increased demand for new service orders in the late fall months and a decline in access lines in the early spring months due to seasonal population trends.  In certain of our other markets servicing colleges or universities, we experience increased demand for our services while school is in session.  Additionally, from time to time weather-related problems have resulted in increased costs to repair our network and respond to service calls in some of our markets.  The amount and timing of the costs are subject to the weather patterns of any given year, but have generally been highest during the third quarter and have been related to damage from severe storms, including hurricanes, tropical storms and tornadoes in our markets along the lower Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastlines.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS OR MATTERS

In recent years, our board of directors has approved various stock repurchase programs under which we have repurchased approximately $401.0 million, $186.7 million, $437.5 million, $1.028 billion and $503.9 million of our shares under separate repurchase programs approved in February 2004, February 2005, May 2005, February 2006 and August 2007, respectively.  For additional information, see “Liquidity and Capital Resources” included in Item 7 of this annual report.

In June 2008, our board of directors increased our quarterly cash dividend rate from $.0675 to $.70 per share and in February 2010 our board further increased our quarterly dividend to $.725 per share.  See “Risk Factors” below for additional information regarding our current dividend practice.
 
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For additional information concerning our business and properties, see Items 2 and 7 elsewhere herein, and the Consolidated Financial Statements and Notes 2, 3, 5, 6 and 18 thereto set forth in Item 8 elsewhere herein.

Item 1A.
Risk Factors
 
 
RISK FACTORS AND CAUTIONARY STATEMENTS

Risk Factors

Any of the following risks could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition, results of operations, liquidity or prospects.  The risks described below are not the only risks facing us.  Please be aware that additional risks and uncertainties not currently known to us or that we currently deem to be immaterial could also materially and adversely affect our business operations.

Risks Related to Our Business
 
If we continue to experience access line losses similar to the past several years, our revenues, earnings and cash flows may be adversely impacted.
 
Our business generates a substantial portion of its revenues by delivering voice and data services over access lines.  We have experienced substantial access line losses over the past several years due to a number of factors, including increased competition and wireless and broadband substitution.  We expect to continue to experience access line losses in our markets for the foreseeable future.  Our inability to retain access lines could adversely impact our revenues, earnings and cash flow from operations.
 

We face competition, which we expect to intensify and which may reduce market share and lower profits.
 
As a result of various technological, regulatory and other changes, the telecommunications industry has become increasingly competitive.  We face competition from (i) wireless telephone services, which is expected to increase as wireless providers continue to expand and improve their network coverage and offer enhanced services, (ii) cable television operators, (iii) CLECs, (iv) VoIP and broadband service providers, (v) alternative networks or non-carrier systems designed to reduce demand for our switching or access services and (vi) resellers, sales agents and facilities-based providers that either use their own networks or lease parts of our networks.  Over time, we expect to face additional local exchange competition from electric utilities, satellite communications providers and municipalities.  The recent proliferation of companies offering integrated service offerings has intensified competition in Internet, long distance and data services markets, and we expect that competition will further intensify in these markets.
 
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Our competitive position could be weakened in the future by strategic alliances or consolidation within the communications industry or the development of new technologies. Our ability to compete successfully will depend on how well we market our products and services and on our ability to anticipate and respond to various competitive and technological factors affecting the industry, including changes in regulation (which may affect us differently from our competitors), changes in consumer preferences or demographics, and changes in the product offerings or pricing strategies of our competitors.

Some of our current and potential competitors (i) offer a more comprehensive range of communications products and services, (ii) have market presence, engineering and technical capabilities, and financial and other resources substantially greater than ours, (iii) own larger and more diverse networks, (iv) conduct operations or raise capital at a lower cost than us, (v) are subject to less regulation, (vi) offer greater online content services or (vii) have substantially stronger brand names. Consequently, these competitors may be better equipped to charge lower prices for their products and services, to provide more attractive offerings, to develop and expand their communications and network infrastructures more quickly, to adapt more swiftly to new or emerging technologies and changes in customer requirements, and to devote greater resources to the marketing and sale of their products and services.

Competition could adversely impact us in several ways, including (i) the loss of customers and market share, (ii) the possibility of customers reducing their usage of our services or shifting to less profitable services, (iii) reduced traffic on our networks, (iv) our need to expend substantial time or money on new capital improvement projects, (v) our need to lower prices or increase marketing expenses to remain competitive and (vi) our inability to diversify by successfully offering new products or services.

Changes in technology could harm us.
 
The communications industry is experiencing significant technological changes, particularly in the areas of VoIP, data and video transmission and electronic and wireless communications.  The growing prevalence of electronic mail and other non-voice communications continues to reduce demand for many of our products and services.  Other changes in technology could result in the development of additional products or services that compete with or displace those offered by ILECs, or that enable current customers to reduce or bypass use of our networks.  Some of our competitors may enjoy network advantages that will enable them to provide services that have a greater market acceptance than ours.  Technological change could also require us to expend capital or other resources in excess of currently contemplated levels, or to forego the development or provision of products or services that others can provide more efficiently.  We cannot predict with certainty which technological changes will provide the greatest threat to our competitive position.  We may not be able to obtain timely access to new technology on satisfactory terms or incorporate new technology into our systems in a cost effective manner, or at all.  If we cannot develop new products to keep pace with technological advances, or if such products are not widely embraced by our customers, we could be adversely impacted.
 
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We cannot assure you that our diversification efforts will be successful.
 
The telephone industry has recently experienced a decline in access lines and intrastate minutes of use, which, coupled with the other changes resulting from competitive, technological and regulatory developments, could materially adversely affect our core business and future prospects.  As explained in greater detail elsewhere in this Annual Report on Form 10-K, our access lines (excluding the effect of acquisitions) have decreased over the last several years, and we expect this trend to continue.  We have also earned less network access revenues in recent years due to reductions in access rates and minutes of use (partially due to the displacement of minutes of use by wireless, electronic mail, text messaging, arbitrage and other optional calling services).  We believe that our access rates and minutes of use will continue to decline, although the magnitude of such decrease is uncertain.
 
Recently, we broadened the scope of our service bundles by offering satellite television provided by DIRECTV and wireless voice services provided by Verizon Wireless.  As noted in further detail below, our reliance on other companies and their networks to provide these services could constrain our flexibility and limit the profitability of these new offerings.  We also provide facilities-based digital video services to select markets and may initiate other new service or product offerings in the future.  We anticipate that these new offerings will generate lower profit margins than many of our traditional services.  Moreover, our new product or service offerings could be constrained by intellectual property rights held by others, or could subject us to the risk of infringement claims brought against us by others.  For these and other reasons, we cannot assure you that our recent or future diversification efforts will be successful.
 
Future deterioration in our financial performance could adversely impact our credit ratings, our cost of capital and our access to the capital markets.
 
Our ability to attract more customers or expand our services may be constrained.
 
To partially offset the loss of revenues from declining access lines, we have relied over the past several years upon growth in the number of customers subscribing to our long distance, broadband and enhanced telephone service offerings.  As increasing numbers of our existing or potential customers have subscribed to these services over the past several years, the growth rate in our revenues derived therefrom has slowed.  We expect this trend to continue as we increasingly saturate our markets with these services.
 
Weakness in the economy and capital markets may adversely affect our future results of operations.
 
To date, we have not been materially impacted by weaknesses in the credit markets over the past few years; however, these weaknesses may negatively impact our operations in the future if overall borrowing rates increase.  In addition, if the economy and credit markets continue to remain weak, it may impact our ability to collect our receivables.  This weakness may also cause our customers to reduce or terminate their receipt of service offerings from us.  Economic weakness could also negatively affect our vendors.  We cannot predict with certainty the impact to us of any further weakness in the overall economy and credit markets.
 
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We are also exposed to market risk from changes in the fair value of our pension plan assets.  Should our actual return on plan assets be significantly lower than our anticipated return, our net periodic pension expense and our required cash contribution to our pension plan will increase in future periods.  Such events would negatively impact our results of operations and cash flow.

We may not be able to continue to grow through acquisitions.
 
We have traditionally sought growth largely through acquisitions of properties similar to those currently operated by us, such as those that we acquired from Embarq in 2009 and those that we have agreed to acquire from Qwest.  However, no assurance can be given that additional properties will in the future be available for purchase on terms attractive to us, particularly if they are burdened by regulations, pricing plans or competitive pressures that are new or different from those historically applicable to our incumbent properties.  Moreover, no assurance can be given that we will be able to arrange additional financing on terms acceptable to us or to obtain timely federal and state governmental approvals on terms acceptable to us, or at all.
 
Our future results will suffer if we do not effectively adjust to changes in our business, and will further suffer if we do not effectively manage our expanded operations.
 
The above-described changes in our industry have placed a higher premium on marketing, technological, engineering and provisioning skills.  Our acquisition of Embarq also significantly changed the composition of our markets and product mix, and completion of the pending Qwest merger would result in similar changes.  Our future success depends, in part, on our ability to retrain our staff to acquire or strengthen skills necessary to address these changes, and, where necessary, to attract and retain new personnel that possess these skills.
 
Following our pending acquisition of Qwest, we may continue to expand our operations through additional acquisitions, other strategic transactions, and new product and service offerings, some of which could involve complex technical, engineering, and operational challenges. Our future success depends, in part, upon our ability to manage our expansion opportunities, which pose substantial challenges for us to integrate new operations into our existing business in an efficient and timely manner, to successfully monitor our operations, costs, regulatory compliance and service quality, and to maintain other necessary internal controls.  We cannot assure you that our expansion or acquisition opportunities will be successful, or that we will realize our expected operating efficiencies, cost savings, revenue enhancements, synergies or other benefits.
 
Our relationships with other communications companies are material to our operations and expose us to a number of risks.
 
We originate and terminate calls for long distance carriers and other interexchange carriers over our networks in exchange for access charges that represent a significant portion of our revenues. If these carriers go bankrupt or experience substantial financial difficulties, or are otherwise unable to or unwilling to pay our access charges, our inability to timely collect access charges from them could have a negative effect on our business and results of operations.
 
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In addition, certain of our operations carry a significant amount of voice and data traffic for larger communications companies.  As these larger communications companies consolidate or expand their networks, it is possible that they could transfer a significant portion of this traffic from our fiber network to their networks, which could have a negative effect on our business and results of operations.
 
We rely on certain reseller and sales agency arrangements with other companies to provide some of the services that we sell to our customers.  If we fail to extend or renegotiate these arrangements as they expire from time to time or if these other companies fail to fulfill their contractual obligations, we may have difficulty finding alternative arrangements. In addition, as a reseller or sales agent, we do not control the availability, retail price, design, function, quality, reliability, customer service or branding of these products and services, nor do we directly control all of the marketing and promotion of these products and services. To the extent that these other companies make decisions that negatively impact our ability to market and sell our products and services, our business plans and reputation could be negatively impacted.
 
Network disruptions or system failures could adversely affect our operating results and financial condition.
 
To be successful, we will need to continue providing our customers with a high capacity, reliable and secure network.  Some of the risks to our network and infrastructure include:
 
 
breaches of security, including sabotage, tampering, computer viruses and break-ins
 
 
power losses or physical damage, whether caused by fire, adverse weather conditions (including those described immediately below), terrorism or otherwise
 
 
capacity limitations
 
 
software and hardware defects or malfunctions, and
 
 
other disruptions that are beyond our control.
 
Disruptions or system failures may cause interruptions in service or reduced capacity for customers.  If service is not restored in a timely manner, agreements with our customers or service standards set by state regulatory commissions could obligate us to provide credits or other remedies.  If network security is breached, confidential information of our customers or others could be lost or misappropriated, and we may be required to expend additional resources modifying network security to remediate vulnerabilities.  The occurrence of any disruption or system failure may result in a loss of business, increase expenses, damage our reputation, subject us to additional regulatory scrutiny or expose us to litigation and possible financial losses, any of which could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and financial condition.
 
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We face hurricane and other natural disaster risks, which can disrupt our operations and cause us to incur substantial additional capital costs.
 
A substantial number of our access lines are located in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, North Carolina, and South Carolina, and our operations there are subject to the risks associated with severe tropical storms, hurricanes and tornadoes, including downed telephone lines, power-outages, damaged or destroyed property and equipment, and work interruptions.
 
Although we maintain property and casualty insurance on our plant (excluding our outside plant) and may under certain circumstances be able to seek recovery of some additional costs through increased rates, only a portion of our additional costs directly related to such hurricanes and natural disasters have historically been recoverable. We cannot predict whether we will continue to be able to obtain insurance for hazard-related damages or, if obtainable and carried, whether this insurance will be adequate to cover our losses. In addition, we expect any insurance of this nature to be subject to substantial deductibles and to provide for premium adjustments based on claims. Any future hazard-related costs and work interruptions could adversely affect our operations and our financial condition.
 
Any failure or inadequacy of our information technology infrastructure could harm our business.
 
The capacity, reliability and security of our internal information technology hardware and software infrastructure (including our billing systems) are important to the operation of our current business, which would suffer in the event of system failures.  Likewise, our ability to expand and update our information technology infrastructure in response to our growth and changing needs is important to the continued implementation of our new service offering initiatives.  Our inability to expand or upgrade our technology infrastructure could have adverse consequences, which could include the delayed implementation of new service offerings, increased acquisition integration costs, service or billing interruptions, and the diversion of development resources.
 
We rely on a limited number of key suppliers and vendors to operate our business.
 
We depend on a limited number of suppliers and vendors for equipment and services relating to our network infrastructure.  Our local exchange carrier networks consist of central office and remote sites, all with advanced digital switches.  If any of these suppliers experience interruptions or other problems delivering or servicing these network components on a timely basis, our operations could suffer significantly.  To the extent that proprietary technology of a supplier is an integral component of our network, we may have limited flexibility to purchase key network components from alternative suppliers.  In addition, we rely on a limited number of software vendors to support our business management systems.  In the event it becomes necessary to seek alternative suppliers and vendors, we may be unable to obtain satisfactory replacement supplies or services on economically attractive terms, on a timely basis, or at all, which could increase costs or cause disruptions in our services.
 
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We may not own or have a license to use all technology that may be necessary to expand our product offerings, either of which could adversely affect our business and profitability.
 
From time to time, we may need to obtain the right to use certain patents or other intellectual property from third parties to be able to offer new products and services.  If we cannot license or otherwise obtain rights to use any required technology from a third party on reasonable terms, our ability to offer new products and services, including IP-based offerings, may be restricted, made more costly or delayed.  Our inability to implement IP-based or other new offerings on a cost-effective basis could impair our ability to successfully meet increasing competition from companies offering voice or integrated communications services.  Our inability to deploy new technologies could also prevent us from successfully diversifying, modifying or bundling our service offerings and result in accelerated loss of access lines and revenues or otherwise adversely affect our business and profitability.
 
Portions of our property, plant and equipment are located on property owned by third parties.
 
Over the past few years, certain utilities, cooperatives and municipalities in certain of the states in which we operate have requested significant rate increases for attaching our plant to their facilities.  To the extent that these entities are successful in increasing the amount we pay for these attachments, our future operating costs will increase.
 
In addition, we rely on rights-of-way, collocation agreements and other authorizations granted by governmental bodies and other third parties to locate our cable, conduit and other network equipment on their respective properties.  If any of these authorizations terminate or lapse, our operations could be adversely affected.
 
We depend on key members of our senior management team.
 
Our success depends largely on the skills, experience and performance of a limited number of senior officers.  Competition for senior management in our industry is intense and we may have difficulty retaining our current senior officers or attracting new ones in the event of terminations or resignations.  For a discussion of similar retention concerns relating to the Embarq merger and the pending Qwest merger, please see the risks described below under the headings “– Risks Related to our Acquisition of Embarq on July 1, 2009” and “ – Risks Relating to Our Pending Acquisition of Qwest.”
 
We could be affected by certain changes in labor matters.
 
A substantial number of our employees are members of various bargaining units represented by two different unions.  From time to time, our labor agreements with these unions lapse, and we typically negotiate the terms of new agreements.  We cannot predict the outcome of these negotiations.  We may be unable to reach new agreements, and union employees may engage in strikes, work slowdowns or other labor actions, which could materially disrupt our ability to provide services.  In addition, new labor agreements may impose significant new costs on us, which could impair our financial condition or results of operations in the future.  To the extent they contain benefit provisions, these agreements also limit our flexibility to change benefits in response to industry or competitive changes.  In particular, the post-employment benefits provided under these agreements cause us to incur costs not faced by many of our competitors, which could ultimately hinder our competitive position.
 
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Risks Relating to Our Pending Acquisition of Qwest
 
Our ability to complete the Qwest merger is subject to the receipt of consents and approvals from government entities, which may impose conditions that could have an adverse effect on us or could cause us to abandon the merger.
 
We are unable to complete the merger until we receive approvals from the FCC and various state governmental entities.  In deciding whether to grant some of these approvals, the relevant governmental entity will make a determination of whether, among other things, the merger is in the public interest.  Regulatory entities may impose certain requirements or obligations as conditions for their approval or in connection with their review.
 
The Qwest merger agreement may require us to accept conditions from these regulators that could adversely impact the combined company without us having the right to refuse to close the merger on the basis of those regulatory conditions.  We can provide no assurance that we will obtain the necessary approvals or that any required conditions will not materially adversely effect us following the merger.  In addition, we can provide no assurance that these conditions will not result in the abandonment of the merger.
 
Failure to complete the Qwest merger could negatively impact us.
 
If the merger is not completed, our ongoing businesses may be adversely affected and we will be subject to several risks, including the following:
 
 
 
breaches of security, including sabotage, tampering, computer viruses and break-ins
 
 
power losses or physical damage, whether caused by fire, adverse weather conditions (including those described immediately below), terrorism or otherwise
 
 
capacity limitations
 
 
software and hardware defects or malfunctions, and
 
 
other disruptions that are beyond our control.

in each case, without realizing any of the benefits of having the merger completed.
 
The Qwest merger agreement contains provisions that could discourage a potential acquirer of CenturyLink or could result in any proposal being at a lower price than it might otherwise be.
 
The merger agreement contains “no shop” provisions that restrict our ability to solicit, encourage, facilitate or discuss third-party proposals to acquire all or a significant part of CenturyLink.  This and other provisions in the Qwest merger agreement could discourage a potential acquirer that might have an interest in acquiring all or a significant part of CenturyLink from considering or proposing that acquisition, or might result in a potential acquirer proposing to pay a lower price than it might otherwise have proposed to pay.
 
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The pendency of the Qwest merger could adversely affect our business and operations.
 
In connection with the pending Qwest merger, some of our customers or vendors may delay or defer decisions, which could negatively impact our revenues, earnings, cash flows and expenses, regardless of whether the merger is completed.  Similarly, our current and prospective employees may experience uncertainty about their future roles with the combined company following the merger, which may materially adversely affect our ability to attract and retain key personnel during the pendency of the merger.  In addition, due to operating covenants in the merger agreement, we may be unable, during the pendency of the merger, to pursue strategic transactions, undertake significant capital projects, undertake certain significant financing transactions and pursue other actions that are not in the ordinary course of business, even if such actions would prove beneficial.
 
We expect to incur substantial expenses related to the Qwest merger.
 
We expect to incur substantial expenses in connection with completing the Qwest merger and integrating Qwest’s business, operations, networks, systems, technologies, policies and procedures of Qwest with ours.  There are a large number of systems that must be integrated, including billing, management information, purchasing, accounting and finance, sales, payroll and benefits, fixed asset, lease administration and regulatory compliance.  While we have assumed that a certain level of transaction and integration expenses will be incurred, there are a number of factors beyond our control that could affect the total amount or the timing of our integration expenses.  Many of the expenses that will be incurred, by their nature, are difficult to estimate accurately at the present time.  Moreover, we expect to commence these integration initiatives before we have completed a similar integration of our business with the business of Embarq, acquired in 2009, which could cause both of these integration initiatives to be delayed or rendered more costly or disruptive than would otherwise be the case.  Due to these factors, we expect the transaction and integration expenses associated with the Qwest merger to exceed in the near term our anticipated post-merger integration savings resulting from the elimination of duplicative expenses and the realization of economies of scale, many of which cannot be attained until several months or years after the merger.  As a result of these expenses, we expect to take charges against our earnings before and after the completion of the merger.  The charges taken after the merger are expected to be significant, although the aggregate amount and timing of such charges are uncertain at present.
 
Following the Qwest merger, the combined company may be unable to integrate successfully our business and Qwest’s business and realize the anticipated benefits of the merger.
 
The Qwest merger involves the combination of two companies which currently operate as independent public companies.  The combined company will be required to devote significant management attention and resources to integrating the business practices and operations of CenturyLink and Qwest. We may encounter difficulties in the integration process, including the following:
 
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the inability to successfully combine our business and Qwest’s business in a manner that permits the combined company to achieve the cost savings and operating synergies anticipated to result from the merger, either due to technological challenges, personnel shortages, strikes or otherwise, any of which would result in the anticipated benefits of the merger not being realized partly or wholly in the time frame currently anticipated or at all;
 
 
lost sales as a result of customers of either of the two companies deciding not to do business with the combined company;
 
 
the complexities associated with managing the combined businesses out of several different locations and integrating personnel from the two companies, while at the same time attempting to provide consistent, high quality products and services under a unified culture;
 
 
the additional complexities of combining two companies with different histories, regulatory restrictions, markets and customer bases, and initiating this process before we have fully completed the integration of our operations with those of Embarq;
 
 
the failure to retain key employees of either of the two companies, some of whom could be critical to integrating the companies;
 
 
potential unknown liabilities and unforeseen increased expenses or regulatory conditions associated with the merger; and
 
 
performance shortfalls at one or both of the two companies as a result of the diversion of management’s attention caused by completing the merger and integrating the companies’ operations.
 
For all these reasons, you should be aware that it is possible that the integration process could result in the distraction of the combined company’s management, the disruption of the combined company’s ongoing business or inconsistencies in the combined company’s products, services, standards, controls, procedures and policies, any of which could adversely affect our ability to maintain relationships with customers, vendors and employees or to achieve the anticipated benefits of the merger, or could otherwise adversely affect our business and financial results.
 
The Qwest merger will change the profile of our local exchange markets to include more large urban areas, with which we have limited operating experience.
 
Prior to the Embarq acquisition, we provided local exchange telephone services to predominantly rural areas and small to mid-size cities.  Although Embarq’s local exchange markets include Las Vegas, Nevada and suburbs of Orlando and several other large U.S. cities, we have operated these more dense markets only since mid-2009.  Qwest’s markets include Phoenix, Arizona, Denver, Colorado, Minneapolis — St. Paul, Minnesota, Seattle, Washington, Salt Lake City, Utah, and Portland, Oregon.  Compared to our legacy markets, these urban markets, on average, are substantially denser and have experienced greater access line losses in recent years.  While we believe our strategies and operating models developed serving rural and smaller markets can successfully be applied to larger markets, we can not assure you of this.  Our business, financial performance and prospects could be harmed if our current strategies or operating models cannot be successfully applied to larger markets following the merger, or are required to be changed or abandoned to adjust to differences in these larger markets.
 
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Following the Qwest merger, we may be unable to retain key employees.
 
Our success after the merger will depend in part upon our ability to retain key Qwest and CenturyLink employees.  Key employees may depart either before or after the merger because of issues relating to the uncertainty and difficulty of integration or a desire not to remain with us following the merger.  Accordingly, no assurance can be given that we will be able to retain key employees to the same extent that we or Qwest have been able to in the past.
 
Following the Qwest merger, we will conduct branding or rebranding initiatives that are likely to involve substantial costs and may not be favorably received by customers.
 
Prior to the merger, each of us will each continue to market our respective products and services using the “CenturyLink” and “Qwest” brand names and logos.  Following the merger, our Board of Directors has approved “CenturyLink” as the name and brand for the combined company.  As a result, we expect to incur substantial capital and other costs in rebranding the CenturyLink name in those markets that previously used the Qwest name.  The failure of any of these initiatives could adversely affect our ability to attract and retain customers after the merger, resulting in reduced revenues.
 
Any adverse outcome of the KPNQwest litigation or other material litigation of Qwest or CenturyLink could have a material adverse impact on our financial condition and operating results following the Qwest merger.
 
As described in further detail in Qwest’s reports filed with the SEC, the pending KPNQwest litigation presents material and significant risks to Qwest, and, following the merger, to the combined company. In the aggregate, the plaintiffs in these matters have sought billions of dollars in damages.
 
There are other material proceedings pending against Qwest and CenturyLink, as described in their respective reports filed with the SEC.  Depending on their outcome, any of these matters could have a material adverse effect on the financial position or operating results of Qwest, CenturyLink or, following the merger, the combined company.  We can give you no assurances as to the impact of these matters on our operating results or financial condition.
 
 
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Counterparties to certain significant agreements with Qwest may exercise contractual rights to terminate such agreements following the Qwest merger.
 
Qwest is a party to certain agreements that give the counterparty a right to terminate the agreement following a “change in control” of Qwest.  Under most such agreements, the Qwest merger will constitute a change in control of Qwest and therefore the counterparty may terminate the agreement upon the closing of the merger.  Qwest has agreements subject to such termination provisions with significant customers, major suppliers and service providers.  In addition, certain Qwest customer contracts, including those with state or federal government agencies, allow the customer to terminate the contract at any time for convenience, which would allow the customer to terminate its contract before, at or after the closing of the merger.  Any such counterparty may request modifications of their respective agreements as a condition to their agreement not to terminate.  There is no assurance that such agreements will not be terminated, that any such terminations will not result in a material adverse effect, or that any modifications of such agreements to avoid termination will not result in a material adverse effect.
 
We may be unable to obtain security clearances necessary to perform certain Qwest government contracts.
 
Certain Qwest legal entities and officers have security clearances required for Qwest’s performance of customer contracts with various government entities.  Following the merger, it may be necessary for us to obtain comparable security clearances.  If we or our officers are unable to qualify for such security clearances, we may not be able to continue to perform such contracts.
 
We cannot assure you whether, when or in what amounts we will be able to use Qwest’s net operating losses following the Qwest merger.
 
As of December 31, 2010, Qwest had $5.6 billion of net operating losses, or NOLs, which for federal income tax purposes can be used to offset future taxable income, subject to certain limitations under Section 382 of the Internal Revenue Code and related regulations.  Our ability to use these NOLs following the Qwest merger may be further limited by Section 382 if Qwest is deemed to undergo an ownership change as a result of the merger or we are deemed to undergo an ownership change following the merger, either of which could potentially restrict use of a material portion of the NOLs.  Determining the limitations under Section 382 is technical and highly complex.  As a result, we cannot assure you that we will be able to use the NOLs after the merger in the amounts we project.
 
The pending Qwest merger raises other risks.
 
For information on other risks raised by the pending Qwest merger, please see (i) the risks described below under the heading “– Other Risks” and (ii) the joint proxy statement – prospectus filed by us with the SEC on July 19, 2010.
 
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Risks Related to our Acquisition of Embarq on July 1, 2009
 
We have not yet fully integrated Embarq’s operations into our operations, which involves several risks.
 
We continue to incur substantial expenses in connection with integrating the business, operations, networks, systems, technologies, policies and procedures of Embarq with ours, which will likely result in us continuing to take significant charges against earnings in future quarters.  We cannot assure you that we will be able to successfully integrate our legacy business with Embarq’s business, or that we will be able to retain key employees affected by the Embarq merger.  For more information on these risks, please see (i) the risk factors included in Item 1A of our Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2009 and (ii) the risks described above under the heading “– Risks Relating to Our Pending Acquisition of Qwest” that discuss the costs and uncertainties associated with integrating Qwest’s operations into ours.
 
In connection with completing the Embarq merger, we launched branding initiatives that may not be favorably received by customers.
 
Upon completion of the Embarq merger, we changed our brand name to CenturyLink.  We have incurred substantial capital and operating costs in re-branding our products and services.  There is no assurance that we will be able to achieve name recognition or status under our new brand that is comparable to the recognition and status previously enjoyed.  The failure of these initiatives could adversely affect our ability to attract and retain customers after the merger, resulting in reduced revenues.
 
In connection with approving the Embarq merger, the Federal Communications Commission imposed conditions that could increase our future capital costs and limit our operating flexibility.
 
In connection with approving the Embarq merger, the FCC issued a publicly-available order that imposed a comprehensive set of conditions on our operations over periods ranging from one to three years following the closing date.  Among other things, these conditions commit us (i) to make broadband service available to all of our residential and single line business customers within three years of the closing, (ii) to meet various targets regarding the speed of our broadband services, and (iii) to enhance the wholesale service levels in our legacy markets to match the service levels in Embarq’s markets.  Although most of these commitments largely correspond to our business strategies, they could increase our overall future capital or operating costs or limit our flexibility to deploy capital in response to changing market conditions.  
 
In connection with completing the Embarq merger, we assumed various contingent liabilities and a sizable underfunded pension plan of Embarq, which could negatively impact our future financial position or performance.
 
Upon consummating the merger, Embarq became our wholly-owned subsidiary and remains responsible for all of its pre-closing contingent liabilities, including Embarq’s previously-disclosed tax sharing, retiree benefit litigation and environmental risks.  Embarq also remains responsible for benefits under its existing qualified defined benefit pension plan, which as of December 31, 2010 was in an underfunded position.  If any of these matters give rise to material liabilities, our consolidated operating results or financial position will be negatively affected.  Additional information regarding these risks is available in (i) Items 3 and 8 of this Annual Report on Form 10-K and (ii) the periodic reports filed by Embarq with the SEC through the date of the merger.
 
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Risks Related to Our Regulatory Environment
 
Our revenues could be materially reduced or our expenses materially increased by changes in state or federal regulations.
 
The majority of our revenues are substantially dependent upon regulations which, if changed, could result in material revenue reductions.  Laws and regulations applicable to us and our competitors have been and are likely to continue to be subject to ongoing changes and court challenges, which could also affect our financial performance.
 
Risk of loss or reduction of network access charge revenues or support fund payments.  A significant portion of our revenues is derived from switched or special access charge revenues that are paid to us by other carriers based largely on rates set by federal and state regulatory bodies.  Interexchange carriers have filed complaints in various forums requesting reductions in our access rates.  In addition, several long distance providers have begun disputing amounts owed to us for carrying VoIP traffic, or refusing to pay such amounts.  Several state public service commissions are investigating intrastate access rates and the ultimate outcome and impact of such investigations are uncertain.
 
The FCC regulates tariffs for interstate switched access, special access and subscriber line charges, all of which are components of our revenue.  The FCC has been considering comprehensive reform of its intercarrier compensation rules for several years, including proposals included in its recently-released National Broadband Plan that, as proposed, are likely to reduce network access payments.  Any reform eventually adopted by the FCC will likely involve significant changes in the current access charge system and could potentially result in a significant decrease or elimination of access charges altogether.  In addition, we could be harmed if carriers that use our access services become financially distressed or bypass our networks, either due to changes in regulation or other factors.  Action or inaction by the FCC on intercarrier compensation could lead to disputes with other carriers that delay or prevent us from collecting the full amount of our established access charges.
 
The FCC and Congress may take actions that would impact our video programming access and pricing, which could adversely affect our ability to continue to expand our video business and our competitive position in our existing video markets.
 
We receive revenues from the USF, and, to a lesser extent, intrastate support funds.  These governmental programs are reviewed and amended from time to time, and we cannot provide assurance that they will not be changed or impacted in a manner adverse to us.  Over the past few years, high cost support fund payments to our operating subsidiaries have decreased due to increases in the nationwide average cost per loop factor used to determine payments to program participants, as well as declines in the overall size of the high cost support fund.  In addition, the number of eligible telecommunications carriers receiving support payments from this program has increased substantially in recent years, which, coupled with other factors, has placed additional financial pressure on the amount of money that is available to provide support payments to all eligible recipients, including us.  For several years, the FCC and others have considered comprehensive reforms of the federal USF contribution and distribution rules.  In April 2010, the FCC proposed to replace the USF with a broadband “Connect America” fund, the impact of which on us is currently unclear.
 
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The FCC’s National Broadband Plan released on March 16, 2010 seeks comprehensive changes in federal communications regulations and programs that could, among other things, reduce or eliminate USF and access revenues for our local exchange companies.  We cannot predict the ultimate outcome of this plan or provide any assurances that its implementation will not have a material adverse effect on our business, operating results or financial condition.
 
Risks posed by state regulations.  We are also subject to the authority of state regulatory commissions which have the power to regulate intrastate rates and services, including local, in-state long-distance and network access services.  Under certain circumstances, our ILECs could be ordered to reduce rates or could experience rate reductions following the lapse of regulatory plans currently in effect.  Our business could also be materially adversely affected by the adoption of new laws, policies and regulations or changes to existing state regulations.  In particular, we cannot assure you that we will succeed in obtaining or maintaining all requisite state regulatory approvals for our operations without the imposition of adverse conditions on our business that impose additional costs or limit our revenues.
 
Risks posed by costs of regulatory compliance.  Regulations continue to create significant compliance costs for us.  Challenges to our tariffs by regulators or third parties or delays in obtaining certifications and regulatory approvals could cause us to incur substantial legal and administrative expenses, and, if successful, such challenges could adversely affect the rates that we are able to charge our customers.  Our business also may be impacted by legislation and regulation imposing new or greater obligations related to regulations or laws related to bolstering homeland security, increasing disaster recovery requirements, minimizing environmental impacts, enhancing privacy, or addressing other issues that impact our business, including the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (which requires communications carriers to ensure that their equipment, facilities, and services are able to facilitate authorized electronic surveillance), and laws governing local number portability and customer proprietary network information requirements.  We expect our compliance costs to increase if future laws or regulations continue to increase our obligations to assist other governmental agencies.
 
Regulatory changes in the communications industry could adversely affect our business by facilitating greater competition against us.
 
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 fundamentally changed the communications industry, and resulted in increased competition among service providers.  This Act and the FCC’s implementing regulations remain subject to judicial review and additional rulemakings, thus making it difficult to predict what effect the legislation will ultimately have on us and our competitors.  Several regulatory and judicial proceedings addressing communications issues have recently concluded, are underway or may soon be commenced.  Moreover, certain communities nationwide have expressed an interest in establishing municipal telephone utilities that would compete for customers.  Finally, we could be adversely affected by programs or initiatives recently undertaken by Congress or the FCC, including (i) the federal broadband stimulus projects authorized by Congress in 2009; (ii) the FCC’s above-described National Broadband Plan; (iii) new “network neutrality” rules and; (iv) the proposed broadband “Connect America” replacement support fund.
 
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We are subject to significant regulations that limit our flexibility.
 
As a diversified full service ILEC, we have traditionally been subject to significant regulation that does not apply to many of our competitors.  For instance, unlike many of our competitors, we are subject to federal mandates to share facilities, file and justify tariffs, maintain certain accounts and file reports, and state requirements that obligate us to offer service to all eligible customers in our service territories, require us to maintain service standards and limit our ability to change tariffs in a timely manner.  This regulation imposes substantial compliance costs on us and restricts our ability to change rates, to compete and to respond rapidly to changing industry conditions.  Although newer alternative forms of regulation permit us greater freedoms in several states in which we operate, they nonetheless typically impose caps on the rates that we can charge our customers.  As our business becomes increasingly competitive, regulatory disparities between us and our competitors could impede our ability to compete.  Litigation and different objectives among federal and state regulators could create uncertainty and impede our ability to respond to new regulations.  Moreover, changes in tax laws, regulations or policies could increase our tax rates, particularly if state regulators continue to search for additional revenue sources to address budget shortfalls.  We are unable to predict the future actions of the various regulatory bodies that govern us, but such actions could materially affect our business.
 
We are subject to franchising requirements that could impede our expansion opportunities.
 
We may be required to obtain from municipal authorities operating franchises to install or expand facilities.  Some of these franchises may require us to pay franchise fees.  These franchising requirements generally apply to our fiber transport and CLEC operations, and to our emerging switched digital television and wireless broadband businesses.  These requirements could delay us in expanding our operations or increase the costs of providing these services.
 
We will be exposed to risks arising out of recent legislation affecting U.S. public companies, including risks relating to evaluations of controls required by Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
 
Changing laws, regulations and standards relating to corporate governance and public disclosure, including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and related regulations implemented by the SEC, the New York Stock Exchange and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, are increasing legal and financial compliance costs and making some activities more time consuming.  Any future failure to successfully or timely complete annual assessments of our internal controls required by Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act could subject us to sanctions or investigation by regulatory authorities.  Any such action could adversely affect our financial results or investors’ confidence in us, and could cause our stock price to fall.  If we fail to maintain effective controls and procedures, we may be unable to provide financial information in a timely and reliable manner, which could in certain instances limit our ability to borrow or raise capital.
 
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Our current or prior operations could subject us to liabilities under laws governing the environment, health and safety.
 
Our operations are subject to a variety of environmental, safety, health and other governmental regulations.  We monitor our compliance with federal, state and local regulations governing the use, discharge and disposal of hazardous and environmentally sensitive materials.  Although we believe that we are in compliance with these regulations, the current or prior use, discharge or disposal of these materials by us or companies we have acquired could expose us to claims or actions that could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and operating results.
 
For a more thorough discussion of the regulatory issues that may affect our business, see Item 1 of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.
 
Other Risks
 
We have a substantial amount of indebtedness and may need to incur more in the future.
 
We have a substantial amount of indebtedness, which could have material adverse consequences for us, including (i) hindering our ability to adjust to changing market, industry or economic conditions, (ii) limiting our ability to access the capital markets to refinance maturing debt or to fund acquisitions or emerging businesses, (iii) limiting the amount of free cash flow available for future operations, acquisitions, dividends, stock repurchases or other uses, (iv) making us more vulnerable to economic or industry downturns, including interest rate increases, and (v) placing us at a competitive disadvantage to those of our competitors that have less indebtedness.
 
As a result of assuming Qwest’s indebtedness in connection with the pending Qwest merger, we will become more leveraged.  This could reduce our credit ratings and thereby raise our borrowing costs.
 
In connection with executing our business strategies following the Qwest merger, we expect to continue to evaluate the possibility of acquiring additional communications assets and making strategic investments, and we may elect to finance future acquisitions by incurring additional indebtedness.  Moreover, to respond to competitive challenges, we may be required to raise substantial additional capital to finance new product or service offerings.  Other events that are currently unforeseen, such as higher than expected cash contributions to our benefit plans or significant payments arising out of the matters discussed in Items 1A or 3 of this annual report, could also require us to obtain additional financing or investigate other methods to generate cash.  Our ability to arrange additional financing will depend on, among other factors, our financial position and performance, as well as prevailing market conditions and other factors beyond our control.  We cannot assure you that we will be able to obtain additional financing on terms acceptable to us or at all.  If we are able to obtain additional financing, our credit ratings could be adversely affected, which could further raise our borrowing costs and further limit our future access to capital and our ability to satisfy our debt obligations.
 
 
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Adverse changes in the value of assets or obligations associated with our employee benefit plans could negatively impact our financial results or financial position.
 
We maintain one or more qualified pension plans, non-qualified pension plans and post-retirement benefit plans, several of which are currently underfunded.  Adverse changes in interest rates or market conditions, among other assumptions and factors, could cause a significant increase in the benefit obligations under these plans or a significant decrease in the value of plan assets.  With respect to our qualified pension plans, adverse changes could require us to contribute a material amount of cash to the plans or could accelerate the timing of any required cash payments.  The process of calculating benefit obligations is complex.  The amount of required contributions to these plans in future years will depend on earnings on investments, prevailing discount rates, changes in the plans and funding laws and regulations.  Any future material cash contributions could have a negative impact on our financial results or financial position.
 
We have a significant amount of goodwill and other intangible assets on our balance sheet.  If our goodwill or other intangible assets become impaired, we may be required to record a significant charge to earnings and reduce our stockholders’ equity.
 
Under generally accepted accounting principles, intangible assets are reviewed for impairment on an annual basis or more frequently whenever events or circumstances indicate that its carrying value may not be recoverable.  If our intangible assets are determined to be impaired in the future, we may be required to record a significant, non-cash charge to earnings during the period in which the impairment is determined.
 
We cannot assure you that we will be able to continue paying dividends at the current rate.
 
Based on current circumstances, we plan to continue our current dividend practices.  However, you should be aware that these practices are subject to change for reasons that may include any of the following factors:
 
 
we may not have enough cash to pay such dividends due to changes in our cash requirements, capital spending plans, cash flows or financial position;
 
 
decisions on whether, when and in which amounts to make any future distributions will remain at all times entirely at the discretion of our board of directors, which reserves the right to change our dividend practices at any time and for any reason;
 
 
the effects of regulatory reform, including any changes to intercarrier compensation, Universal Service Fund or special access rules;
 
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our desire to maintain or improve the credit ratings on our senior debt;
 
 
the amount of dividends that we may distribute to our shareholders is subject to restrictions under Louisiana law and is limited by restricted payment and leverage covenants in our credit facilities and, potentially, the terms of any future indebtedness that we may incur; and
 
 
the amount of dividends that our subsidiaries may distribute to CenturyLink is subject to restrictions imposed by state law, restrictions that have been or may be imposed by state regulators in connection with obtaining necessary approvals for the Embarq merger and pending Qwest merger, and restrictions imposed by the terms of credit facilities applicable to certain subsidiaries and, potentially, the terms of any future indebtedness that these subsidiaries may incur.
 
Our Board of Directors is free to change or suspend our dividend practices at any time.  Our common shareholders should be aware that they have no contractual or other legal right to dividends.
 
Our current dividend practices could limit our ability to pursue growth opportunities.
 
The current practice of our Board of Directors to pay an annual $2.90 per common share dividend reflects an intention to distribute to our shareholders a substantial portion of our free cash flow.  As a result, we may not retain a sufficient amount of cash to finance a material expansion of our business in the future.  In addition, our ability to pursue any material expansion of our business, through acquisitions or increased capital spending, will depend more than it otherwise would on our ability to obtain third party financing.  We cannot assure you that such financing will be available to us at all, or at an acceptable cost.
 
As a holding company, we rely on payments from our operating companies to meet our obligations.
 
As a holding company, substantially all of our income and operating cash flow is dependent upon the earnings of our subsidiaries and their distribution of those earnings to us in the form of dividends, loans or other payments.  As a result, we rely upon our subsidiaries to generate the funds necessary to meet our obligations, including the payment of amounts owed under our long-term debt.  Our subsidiaries are separate and distinct legal entities and have no obligation to pay any amounts owed by us or, subject to limited exceptions for tax-sharing purposes, to make any funds available to us to repay our obligations, whether by dividends, loans or other payments.  Certain of our subsidiaries may be restricted under loan agreements or regulatory orders from transferring funds to us, including certain restrictions on the amount of dividends that may be paid to us.  Moreover, our rights to receive assets of any subsidiary upon its liquidation or reorganization will be effectively subordinated to the claims of creditors of that subsidiary, including trade creditors.  The notes to our consolidated financial statements included in this Annual Report on Form 10-K describe these matters in additional detail.
 
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If conditions or assumptions differ from the judgments, assumptions or estimates used in our critical accounting policies, the accuracy of our financial statements and related disclosures could be affected.
 
The preparation of financial statements and related disclosures in conformity with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles requires us to make judgments, assumptions and estimates that affect the amounts reported in our consolidated financial statements and accompanying notes.  For a discussion of our critical accounting policies, see “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations – Critical Accounting Policies and Estimates” in Item 7 of this annual report.  If future events or assumptions differ significantly from the judgments, assumptions and estimates in our critical accounting policies, these events or assumptions could have a material impact on our consolidated financial statements and related disclosures.
 
Taxing authorities may determine we owe additional taxes relating to various matters, which could adversely affect our financial results.
 
As a significant taxpayer, we are subject to frequent and regular audits and examinations by the Internal Revenue Service, as well as state and local tax authorities.  These tax audits and examinations may result in tax liabilities that differ materially from those that we have recorded in our consolidated financial statements.  Because the ultimate outcomes of these matters are uncertain, we can give no assurance as to whether an adverse result from one or more of them will have a material effect on our financial results.
 
Our agreements and organizational documents and applicable law could limit another party’s ability to acquire us.
 
Our articles of incorporation provide for a classified board of directors, which limits the ability of an insurgent to rapidly replace the board.  In addition, a number of other provisions in our agreements and organizational documents and various provisions of applicable law may delay, defer or prevent a future takeover of CenturyLink unless the takeover is approved by our Board of Directors.  This could deprive our shareholders of any related takeover premium.
 
We face other risks.
 
The list of risks above is not exhaustive, and you should be aware that we face various other risks discussed in this or other reports, proxy statements or documents filed by us with the SEC.
 
Cautionary Statements Regarding Forward-Looking Statements

This report and other documents filed by us under the federal securities laws include, and future oral or written statements or press releases by us and our management may include, certain forward-looking statements relating to CenturyLink or Qwest, the operations of either such company or our pending acquisition of Qwest, including without limitation statements with respect to CenturyLink’s or Qwest’s anticipated future operating and financial performance, financial position and liquidity, tax position, contingent liabilities, growth opportunities and growth rates, acquisition and divestiture opportunities, merger synergies, business prospects, regulatory and competitive outlook, investment and expenditure plans, investment results, financing opportunities and sources (including the impact of financings on our financial position, financial performance or credit ratings), pricing plans, strategic alternatives, business strategies, and other similar statements of expectations or objectives or accompanying statements of assumptions that are highlighted by words such as “expects,” “anticipates,” “intends,” “plans,” “believes,” “projects,” “seeks,” “estimates,” “hopes,” “likely,” “should,” “could,” and “may,” and variations thereof and similar expressions.  Such forward-looking statements are based upon our judgment and assumptions as of the date such statements are made concerning future developments and events, many of which are outside of our control.  These forward-looking statements, and the assumptions upon which such statements are based, are inherently speculative and are subject to uncertainties that could cause our actual results to differ materially from such statements.  Anticipated events may not occur and the actual results or performance of CenturyLink or Qwest may differ materially from those anticipated, estimated or projected if one or more of these risks or uncertainties materialize, or if underlying assumptions prove incorrect.  Factors that could impact the actual results of CenturyLink or Qwest include but are not limited to:
 
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the extent, timing, success and overall effects of competition from wireless carriers, VoIP and broadband providers, CLECs, cable television companies and others, including without limitation the risks that these competitors may offer less expensive or more innovative products and services;
 
 
the risks inherent in rapid technological change, including without limitation the risk that new technologies will displace our products and services;
 
 
the effects of ongoing changes in the regulation of the communications industry, including without limitation (i) increased competition resulting from regulatory changes, (ii) the final outcome of various federal, state and local regulatory initiatives, disputes and proceedings that could impact our competitive position, revenues, compliance costs, capital expenditures or prospects, (iii) the effect of the National Broadband Plan, (iv) the reduction or elimination of revenues received from the federal Universal Service Fund or other current or future federal and state support programs designed to compensate communications companies operating in high-cost markets, (v) changes in the regulatory treatment of VoIP traffic, and (vi) changes in the regulation of special access;
 
 
our ability to effectively adjust to changes in the communications industry and changes in the composition of our markets and product mix caused by the Embarq merger and the pending Qwest merger;
 
 
the possibility that the anticipated benefits from the Embarq merger cannot be fully realized in a timely manner or at all, or that integrating Embarq’s operations into ours will be more difficult, disruptive or costly than anticipated;
 
45
 
 
our ability to (i) successfully complete our pending acquisition of Qwest, including timely receipt of the required regulatory approvals for the merger free of detrimental conditions, and (ii) timely realize the anticipated benefits of the transaction, including our ability after the closing to use the net operating losses of Qwest in the amounts projected;
 
 
our ability to effectively manage our expansion opportunities, including without limitation our ability to (i) effectively integrate newly-acquired or newly-developed businesses into our operations, (ii) attract and retain technological, managerial and other key personnel, (iii) achieve projected growth, revenue and cost savings targets from the Embarq acquisition and the pending Qwest acquisition within the timeframes anticipated, and (iv) otherwise monitor our operations, costs, regulatory compliance, and service quality and maintain other necessary internal controls;
 
 
possible changes in the demand for, or pricing of, our products and services, including without limitation reduced demand for our traditional telephone or access services caused by greater use of wireless, electronic mail or Internet communications, or other factors;
 
 
our ability to successfully introduce new product or service offerings on a timely and cost-effective basis, including without limitation our ability to (i) successfully roll out our new video and broadband services, (ii) expand successfully our full array of service offerings to new or acquired markets and (iii) offer bundled service packages on terms attractive to our customers;
 
 
our continued access to credit markets on favorable terms, including our continued access to financing in amounts, and on terms and conditions, necessary to support our operations and refinance existing indebtedness when it becomes due;
 
 
our ability to collect receivables from financially troubled communications companies;
 
 
the inability of third parties to discharge their commitments to us;
 
 
the outcome of pending litigation in which CenturyLink, Embarq or Qwest is involved, including the KPNQwest litigation matters in which plaintiffs have sought, in the aggregate, billions of dollars in damages from Qwest;
 
 
our ability to pay a $2.90 per common share dividend annually, which may be affected by changes in our cash requirements, capital spending plans, cash flows or financial position;
 
 
unanticipated increases in our capital expenditures;
 
 
our ability to successfully negotiate collective bargaining agreements on reasonable terms without work stoppages;
 
 
our ownership of or access to technology that may be necessary for us to operate or expand our business;
 
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regulatory limits on our ability to change the prices for telephone services in response to industry changes;
 
 
impediments to our ability to expand through attractively priced acquisitions, whether caused by regulatory limits, financing constraints, a decrease in the pool of attractive target companies, or competition for acquisitions from other interested buyers;
 
 
uncertainties relating to the implementation of our business strategies, including the possible need to make abrupt and potentially disruptive changes in our business strategies due to changes in competition, regulation, technology, product acceptance or other factors;
 
 
the lack of assurance that we can compete effectively against better-capitalized competitors;
 
 
the impact of equipment failure, including potential network disruptions;
 
 
declines in the value of our business that result in non-cash earnings charges for goodwill impairment;

 
general worldwide economic conditions and related uncertainties;
 
 
the effects of adverse weather on our customers or properties;
 
 
other risks referenced in this report and from time to time in our other filings with the SEC;
 
 
the effects of more general factors, including without limitation:
 
 
changes in general industry and market conditions and growth rates
 
 
changes in labor conditions, including workforce levels and labor costs
 
 
changes in interest rates or other general national, regional or local economic conditions
 
 
changes in legislation, regulation or public policy, including changes that increase our tax rate
 
 
increases in capital, operating, medical, pension or administrative costs, or the impact of new business opportunities requiring significant up-front investments
 
 
changes in our relationships with vendors, or the failure of these vendors to provide competitive products on a timely basis
 
 
failures in our internal controls that could result in inaccurate public disclosures or fraud
 
 
changes in our debt ratings
 
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unfavorable outcomes of regulatory proceedings and investigations, including rate proceedings and tax audits
 
 
losses or unfavorable returns on our investments in other communications companies
 
 
delays in the construction of our networks
 
 
changes in accounting policies, assumptions, estimates or practices adopted voluntarily or as required by generally accepted accounting principles.
 
For additional information, see the risk factors listed above in this report and the description of our business included as Item 1 of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.  Due to these uncertainties, we cannot assure you that our anticipated results will occur, that our judgments or assumptions will prove correct, or that unforeseen developments will not occur.  Accordingly, you are cautioned not to place undue reliance upon any of our forward-looking statements, which speak only as of the date made.  Additional risks that we currently deem immaterial or that are not presently known to us could also cause our actual results to differ materially from our expected results.  We undertake no obligation to update or revise any of our forward-looking statements for any reason, whether as a result of new information, future events or developments, changed circumstances, or otherwise.
 
Any information about our intentions contained in this annual report is a statement of our intentions as of the date of this document and is based upon, among other things, the regulatory, industry, competitive, economic and market conditions as of such date, as well as various of our assumptions at such time.  We may change our intentions, at any time and without notice, based upon any changes in such factors, in our assumptions or otherwise.
 
Investors should also be aware that while we do, at various times, communicate with securities analysts, it is against our policy to disclose to them selectively any material non-public information or other confidential information.  Accordingly, investors should not assume that we agree with any statement or report issued by an analyst irrespective of the content of the statement or report.  To the extent that reports issued by securities analysts contain any projections, forecasts or opinions, such reports are not our responsibility.
 
 
Item 1B.
Unresolved Staff Comments

Not applicable.

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Item 2.
Properties.

Our properties consist principally of telephone lines, central office equipment, and land and buildings related to telephone operations. As of December 31, 2010 and 2009, our gross property, plant and equipment of approximately $16.3 billion and $15.6 billion, respectively, consisted of the following:

   
December 31,
 
   
2010
   
2009
 
             
Cable and wire
    50.2 %     52.3  
Central office
    31.1       29.6  
General support
    13.5       12.0  
Fiber transport
    2.3       2.2  
Construction in progress
    1.7       2.8  
Other
    1.2       1.1  
      100.0 %     100.0  
 
“Cable and wire” facilities consist primarily of buried cable and aerial cable, poles, wire, conduit and drops used in providing local and long distance services.  “Central office” consists primarily of switching equipment, circuit equipment and related facilities.  “General support” consists primarily of land, buildings, tools, furnishings, fixtures, motor vehicles and work equipment.  “Fiber transport” consists of network assets and equipment to provide fiber transport services.  “Construction in progress” includes property of the foregoing categories that has not been placed in service because it is still under construction.

The properties of certain of our telephone subsidiaries are subject to mortgages securing the debt of such companies.  We own substantially all of the central office buildings, local administrative buildings, warehouses, and storage facilities used in our telephone operations.

For further information on the location and type of our properties, see the descriptions of our operations in Item 1 of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.
 
 
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Item 3.
Legal Proceedings.

Over 60 years ago, one of our indirect subsidiaries, Centel Corporation, acquired entities that may have owned or operated seven former plant sites that produced “manufactured gas” under a process widely used through the mid-1900s.  Centel has been a subsidiary of Embarq since being spun-off in 2006 from Sprint Nextel, which acquired Centel in 1993.  None of these plant sites are currently owned or operated by either Sprint Nextel, Embarq or their subsidiaries.  On three sites, Embarq and the current landowners are working with the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) pursuant to administrative consent orders.  Remediation expenditures pursuant to the orders are not expected to be material. On five sites, including the three sites where the EPA is involved, Centel has entered into agreements with other potentially responsible parties to share remediation costs. Further, Sprint Nextel has agreed to indemnify Embarq for most of any eventual liability arising from all seven of these sites.  Based upon current circumstances, we do not expect this issue to have a material adverse impact on our results of operations or financial condition.
 
In William Douglas Fulghum, et al. v. Embarq Corporation, et al., filed on December 28, 2007 in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas (Civil Action No. 07-CV-2602), a group of retirees filed a putative class action lawsuit challenging the decision to make certain modifications to Embarq’s retiree benefits programs generally effective January 1, 2008 (which resulted in a $300 million reduction to the liability for retiree benefits at the time of the modifications). Defendants include Embarq, certain of its benefit plans, its Employee Benefits Committee and the individual plan administrator of certain of its benefits plans. Additional defendants include Sprint Nextel and certain of its benefit plans.  Recently, the Court certified a class on certain of plaintiffs’ claims, but rejected class certification as to other claims.  Embarq and other defendants continue to vigorously contest these claims and charges.   Given that this litigation is still in discovery, it is premature to estimate the impact this lawsuit could have to our results of operation or financial condition.  In 2009, a ruling in Embarq’s favor was entered in an arbitration proceeding filed by 15 former Centel executives, similarly challenging the benefits changes.
 
In April 2010, a series of lawsuits were filed by shareholders of Qwest Communications International Inc. in Colorado state and federal courts and in Delaware federal court, alleging that Qwest’s officers and directors breached their fiduciary duties by failing to maximize the value to be received by Qwest’s stockholders in connection with CenturyLink’s recently announced acquisition of Qwest.  CenturyLink was also named as a defendant in most of the lawsuits.  On July 16, 2010, the parties entered into a memorandum of understanding reflecting the terms of their agreement-in-principle for a settlement of all of the claims asserted in these actions. Pursuant to this agreement, defendants included additional disclosures in the final joint proxy statement-prospectus dated July 19, 2010, in response to allegations and claims asserted in certain of the complaints.  At a hearing in late February 2011, the Court gave final approval to this settlement, and all lawsuits challenging the transaction will be dismissed with prejudice effective March 17, 2011.  We do not expect the settlement to have a material adverse impact to our results of operations or financial condition.

In December 2009, subsidiaries of CenturyLink filed two lawsuits against subsidiaries of Sprint Nextel to recover terminating access charges for VoIP traffic owed under various interconnection agreements and tariffs which presently approximate $33 million.  The lawsuits allege that Sprint Nextel has breached contracts, violated tariffs, and violated the Federal Communications Act by failing to pay these charges.  One lawsuit, filed on behalf of all legacy Embarq operating entities, was tried in federal court in Virginia in August 2010 and a ruling is expected in the first quarter of 2011.  The other lawsuit, filed on behalf of all legacy CenturyLink operating entities, is pending in federal court in Louisiana.  In that case, the Court recently dismissed certain of CenturyLink’s claims, referred other claims to the FCC, and stayed the litigation for 12 months.  We have not recorded a reserve related to these lawsuits.
 
 
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From time to time, we are involved in other proceedings incidental to our business, including administrative hearings of state public utility commissions relating primarily to rate making, actions relating to employee claims, various tax issues, occasional grievance hearings before labor regulatory agencies and miscellaneous third party tort actions.   The outcome of these other proceedings is not predictable.  However, based on current circumstances, we do not believe that the ultimate resolution of these other proceedings, after considering available insurance coverage and current levels of reserves, will have a material adverse effect on our financial position, results of operations or cash flows.
 

Item 4.
[Reserved]

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PART II

Item 5.
Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and
Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities
 

Our common stock is listed on the New York Stock Exchange (“NYSE”) and is traded under the symbol CTL.  The following table sets forth the high and low sales prices, along with the quarterly dividends, for each of the quarters indicated.
 
   
Sales prices
     
Dividend per
 
   
High
   
Low
     
common share
 
2010:
                   
First quarter
  $ 37.00       32.98       .725  
Second quarter
  $ 36.73       14.16   (1 ) .725  
Third quarter
  $ 40.00       32.92       .725  
Fourth quarter
  $ 46.87       39.18       .725  
                         
                         
2009:
                       
First quarter
  $ 29.22       23.41       .70  
Second quarter
  $ 33.62       25.26       .70  
Third quarter
  $ 34.00       28.90       .70  
Fourth quarter
  $ 37.15       32.25       .70  
 ________________   
(1)  During the widely-publicized temporary market disruption that occurred on the afternoon of May 6, 2010, our common stock momentarily traded as low as $14.16 in markets other than the NYSE.  The opening and closing prices of our common stock on May 6, 2010, were $34.48 and $33.52, respectively.
 

Common stock dividends during 2010 and 2009 were paid each quarter.

In June 2008, our board of directors increased our quarterly cash dividend rate from $.0675 to $.70 per share.  In February 2010, our board of directors further increased our quarterly cash dividend rate to $.725 per share.

As described in greater detail in Item 1A of this Annual Report on Form 10-K, the declaration and payment of dividends is at the discretion of our Board of Directors, and will depend upon our financial results, cash requirements, future prospects and other factors deemed relevant by the Board of Directors.
 
As of February 28, 2011, there were approximately 35,000 stockholders of record of our common stock.  As of February 28, 2011, the closing stock price of our common stock was $41.18.
                                                                                                             
During the fourth quarter of 2010, we withheld 50,823 shares of stock at an average price of $43.07 per share to pay taxes due upon the vesting of restricted stock for certain of our employees in October, November and December 2010.
 
 
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For information regarding shares of our common stock authorized for issuance under our equity compensation plans, see Item 12.
                                                                                 
Item 6.
Selected Financial Data.
 
            The following table presents certain selected consolidated financial data as of and for each of the years ended in the five-year period ended December 31, 2010.  The results of operations of the Embarq properties are included herein subsequent to its July 1, 2009 acquisition date.

The selected consolidated financial data shown below is derived from our audited consolidated financial statements.  These historical results are not necessarily indicative of results that you can expect for any future period. You should read this data in conjunction with Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations and our full consolidated financial statements and notes thereto contained elsewhere in this Annual Report on Form 10-K.

53
 
Selected Income Statement Data
 
   
Year ended December 31,
 
   
2010
   
2009
   
2008
   
2007
   
2006
 
   
(Dollars, except per share amounts, and shares expressed in thousands)
 
                               
Operating revenues
  $ 7,041,534       4,974,239       2,599,747       2,656,241       2,447,730  
                                         
Operating income
  $ 2,059,944       1,233,101       721,352       793,078       665,538  
                                         
                                         
Net income attributable to CenturyLink, Inc.
  $ 947,705       647,211       365,732       418,370       370,027  
                                         
Basic earnings per share
  $ 3.13       3.23       3.53       3.79       3.15  
                                         
Diluted earnings per share
  $ 3.13       3.23       3.52       3.71       3.07  
                                         
Dividends per common share
  $ 2.90       2.80       2.1675       .26       .25  
                                         
Average basic shares outstanding
    300,619       198,813       102,268       109,360       116,671  
                                         
Average diluted shares outstanding
    301,297       199,057       102,560       112,787       121,990  

 
Selected Balance Sheet Data

   
December 31,
 
   
2010
   
2009
   
2008
   
2007
   
2006
 
   
(Dollars in thousands)
 
                               
Net property, plant and equipment
  $ 8,754,476       9,097,139       2,895,892       3,108,376       3,109,277  
Goodwill
  $ 10,260,640       10,251,758       4,015,674       4,010,916       3,431,136  
Total assets
  $ 22,038,098       22,562,729       8,254,195       8,184,553       7,441,007  
Long-term debt, including current portion and short-
  term debt
  $ 7,327,587       7,753,718       3,314,526       3,014,255       2,590,864  
Stockholders' equity
  $ 9,647,159       9,466,799       3,167,808       3,415,810       3,198,964  
 
 
The following table presents certain selected consolidated operating data as of the following dates:

   
December 31,
 
   
2010
   
2009
   
2008
   
2007
   
2006
 
                               
Telephone access lines (1)
    6,504,000       7,039,000       2,025,000       2,135,000       2,094,000  
High-speed Internet customers (1)
    2,394,000       2,236,000       641,000       555,000       369,000  
(1)       In connection with our Embarq acquisition in July 2009, we acquired approximately 5.4 million telephone access lines and 1.5 million high-speed Internet customers.  In connection with our Madison River acquisition in April 2007, we acquired approximately 164,000 telephone access lines and 57,000 high-speed Internet customers.


See Items 1 and 2 in Part I and Items 7 and 8 elsewhere herein for additional information.

 
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Item 7.
Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations


All references to “Notes” in this Item 7 refer to the Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements included in Item 8 of this annual report.



OVERVIEW

On July 1, 2009, we acquired Embarq Corporation (“Embarq”) in a transaction that substantially expanded the size and scope of our business.  The results of operations of Embarq are included in our consolidated results of operations beginning July 1, 2009.  Due to the significant size of Embarq, direct comparisons of our results of operations for the year ended December 31, 2010 (which includes a full year of results of operations from our Embarq properties) and December 31, 2009 (which only includes a half year of results of operations from our Embarq properties) with prior periods are less meaningful than usual since most of the significant period over period variances are caused by the Embarq acquisition.  We discuss below certain trends that we believe are significant, even if they are not necessarily material to the combined company.
 
We are an integrated communications company primarily engaged in providing a broad array of communications services to customers in 33 states, including local and long distance voice, wholesale network access, special access, high-speed Internet access, other data services, and video services.  In certain local and regional markets, we also provide fiber transport, competitive local exchange carrier, security monitoring, and other communications, professional and business information services.   We operate approximately 6.5 million access lines and serve approximately 2.4 million broadband customers, based on operating data as of December 31, 2010.  For additional information on our revenue sources, see Note 20.  For additional information on our acquisition of Embarq, see Note 2.

During the years ended December 31, 2010 and 2009, we incurred a significant amount of one-time expenses, the vast majority of which are directly attributable to our acquisition of Embarq and our pending acquisition of Qwest Communications International Inc. (“Qwest”).  In 2010, we also recognized a $20.9 million reduction to operating expenses related to a curtailment gain upon the freezing of benefit accruals for non-represented employees under our defined benefit pension plans.  See Note 12 for additional information.  Such one-time expenses are summarized in the table below.

55
 
 
 
   
Year ended December 31,
 
Description
 
2010
   
2009
 
   
(Dollars in thousands)
 
Cost of services and products
           
     Integration related costs associated with our acquisition of Embarq
  $ 36,573       -  
     Severance costs and accelerated recognition of share-based compensation and pension costs due to workforce reductions
    13,702       5,704  
     Curtailment gain related to changes in our defined benefit pension plan
    (5,895 )     -  
Selling, general and administrative
               
     Integration related costs associated with our acquisition of Embarq
    54,941       86,371  
     Severance costs and accelerated recognition of share-based compensation and pension costs due to workforce reductions
    16,490       114,462  
     Transaction and other costs associated with our pending acquisition of Qwest
    22,265       -  
     Curtailment gain related to changes in our defined benefit pension plan
    (15,013 )     -  
     Transaction related costs associated with our acquisition of Embarq, including investment banker and legal fees
    -       47,154  
     Settlement and curtailment loss related to certain executive retirement plans
    -       17,834  
                 
Interest expense
               
     Credit associated with certain debt extinguishments
    -       (11,119 )
                 
Other income (expense)
               
     Net charge associated with certain debt extinguishments
    -       71,968  
     Charge incurred in connection with terminating our $800 million bridge facility
    -       8,000  
    $ 123,063       340,374  
 
 
Based on current plans and information, we expect to incur approximately $80-90 million of additional non-recurring integration related operating expenses associated with our Embarq acquisition in 2011 and $400-500 million of non-recurring transaction and integration related operating expenses associated with our Qwest acquisition in 2011, although actual amounts could vary significantly.
 
In addition, due to executive compensation limitations pursuant to the Internal Revenue Code, a portion of the lump sum distributions related to the termination of an executive retirement plan made in the first quarter of 2009 is reflected as non-deductible for income tax purposes and thus increased our effective income tax rate.  Certain merger-related costs incurred during 2010 and 2009 are also non-deductible for income tax purposes and similarly increased our effective income tax rate.  In 2009, such increase in our effective tax rate was partially offset by a $7.0 million reduction to our deferred tax asset valuation allowance associated with state net operating loss carryforwards.  In addition, in 2009 and 2008, we recognized net after-tax benefits of approximately $15.7 million and $12.8 million, respectively, primarily related to the recognition of previously unrecognized tax benefits.  See Note 13 and “Income Tax Expense” below for additional information.
 
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Upon the discontinuance of regulatory accounting effective July 1, 2009, we recorded a one-time, non-cash extraordinary gain that aggregated approximately $218.6 million before income tax expense and noncontrolling interests ($136.0 million after-tax and noncontrolling interests).  See Note 16 for additional information.
 
During the last several years (exclusive of acquisitions and certain non-recurring favorable adjustments), we have experienced revenue declines in our voice and network access revenues primarily due to declines in access lines, intrastate access rates, minutes of use, and federal support fund payments.  In an attempt to mitigate these declines, we plan to, among other things, (i) promote long-term relationships with our customers through bundling of integrated services, (ii) provide new services, such as video and other additional services that may become available in the future due to advances in technology, wireless spectrum sales by the FCC or improvements in our infrastructure, or agency or reselling arrangements with other carriers, (iii) provide our special access, broadband and premium services to a higher percentage of our customers, (iv) pursue acquisitions of additional communications properties if available at attractive prices, (v) increase usage of our networks and (vi) market our products and services to new customers.

In addition to historical information, this management’s discussion and analysis includes certain forward-looking statements that are based on current expectations only, and are subject to a number of risks, uncertainties and assumptions, many of which are beyond our control.  Actual events and results may differ materially from those anticipated, estimated or projected if one or more of these risks or uncertainties materialize, or if underlying assumptions prove incorrect.  Factors that could affect actual results include but are not limited to:  the timing, success and overall effects of competition from a wide variety of competitive providers; the risks inherent in rapid technological change; the effects of ongoing changes in the regulation of the communications industry (including those arising out of the FCC’s proposed rules regarding intercarrier compensation and the Universal Service Fund and the FCC’s related Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released on February 8, 2011); our ability to effectively adjust to changes in the communications industry and changes in the composition of our markets and product mix caused by our recent acquisitions; our ability to successfully integrate Embarq into our operations, including the possibility that the anticipated benefits from the Embarq merger cannot be fully realized in a timely manner or at all, or that integrating Embarq’s operations into ours will be more difficult, disruptive or costly than anticipated; our ability to successfully complete our pending acquisition of Qwest, including timely receiving all regulatory approvals and realizing the anticipated benefits of the transaction; our ability to effectively manage our expansion opportunities, including retaining and hiring key personnel; possible changes in the demand for, or pricing of, our products and services; our ability to successfully introduce new product or service offerings on a timely and cost-effective basis; our continued access to credit markets on favorable terms; our ability to collect our receivables from financially troubled communications companies; our ability to pay a $2.90 per common share dividend annually, which may be affected by changes in our cash requirements, capital spending plans, cash flows or financial position; unanticipated increases in our capital expenditures; our ability to successfully negotiate collective bargaining agreements on reasonable terms without work stoppages; the effects of adverse weather; other risks referenced from time to time in this report or other of our filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC; and the effects of more general factors such as changes in interest rates, in tax rates, in accounting policies or practices, in operating, medical, pension or administrative costs, in general market, labor or economic conditions, or in legislation, regulation or public policy. These and other uncertainties related to our business, our pending acquisition of Qwest and our July 2009 acquisition of Embarq are described in greater detail in Item 1A of this report, as updated and supplemented by our subsequent SEC reports. You should be aware that new factors may emerge from time to time and it is not possible for us to identify all such factors nor can we predict the impact of each such factor on the business or the extent to which any one or more factors may cause actual results to differ from those reflected in any forward-looking statements.  You are further cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements, which speak only as of the date of this report.  We undertake no obligation to update any of our forward-looking statements for any reason.
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RESULTS OF OPERATIONS
 
Net income attributable to CenturyLink, Inc. for 2010 was $947.7 million, compared to $647.2 million during 2009 and $365.7 million during 2008.  Net income before extraordinary item was $947.7 million, $511.3 million and $365.7 million for the years ended December 31, 2010, 2009 and 2008, respectively.  Diluted earnings per share for 2010 was $3.13 compared to $3.23 in 2009 and $3.52 in 2008.  Diluted earnings per share before extraordinary item for 2009 was $2.55.   As mentioned in the “Overview” section above, we incurred a significant amount of one-time expenses in 2010 and 2009 related principally to our acquisition of Embarq and our pending acquisition of Qwest.  The increase in the number of average shares outstanding in 2010 and 2009 is primarily attributable to the common stock issued in connection with our acquisition of Embarq on July 1, 2009 (such shares are included for a full year in 2010 and a half year in 2009).    
 
Year ended December 31,
 
2010
   
2009
   
2008
 
   
(Dollars, except per share amounts, and shares in thousands)
 
                   
Operating income
  $ 2,059,944       1,233,101       721,352  
Interest expense
    (557,478 )     (370,414 )     (202,217 )
Other income (expense)
    29,619       (48,175 )     42,252  
Income tax expense
    (582,951 )     (301,881 )     (194,357 )
Income before noncontrolling interests and extraordinary item
    949,134       512,631       367,030  
Noncontrolling interests
    (1,429 )     (1,377 )     (1,298 )
Net income before extraordinary item
    947,705       511,254       365,732  
Extraordinary item, net of income tax expense and noncontrolling interests
    -       135,957       -  
Net income attributable to CenturyLink, Inc.
  $ 947,705       647,211       365,732  
                         
Basic earnings per share
                       
      Before extraordinary item
  $ 3.13       2.55       3.53  
      Extraordinary item
  $ -       .68       -  
      Basic earnings per share
  $ 3.13       3.23       3.53  
                         
Diluted earnings per share
                       
      Before extraordinary item
  $ 3.13       2.55       3.52  
      Extraordinary item
  $ -       .68       -  
      Diluted earnings per share
  $ 3.13       3.23       3.52  
                         
Average basic shares outstanding
    300,619       198,813       102,268  
                         
Average diluted shares outstanding
    301,297       199,057       102,560  

Operating income increased $826.8 million in 2010 due to a $2.067 billion increase in operating revenues and a $1.240 billion increase in operating expenses.  Operating income increased $511.7 million in 2009 due to a $2.374 billion increase in operating revenues and a $1.863 billion increase in operating expenses.  Such increases in operating revenues, operating expenses and operating income in 2010 and 2009 were substantially due to our July 1, 2009 acquisition of Embarq.
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As mentioned in Note 16, we discontinued the application of regulatory accounting effective July 1, 2009.  As a result of such discontinuance, since the third quarter of 2009 we have eliminated all intercompany transactions with regulated affiliates that previously were not eliminated under the application of regulatory accounting.  This has caused our revenues and operating expenses to be lower by equivalent amounts (approximately $104 million) for the year ended December 31, 2010 as compared to the year ended December 31, 2009.  Similarly, our revenues and operating expenses for 2009 are lower than 2008 by approximately $108 million due to the mid-year discontinuance of regulatory accounting.
 
 
OPERATING REVENUES

Year ended December 31,
 
2010
   
2009
   
2008
 
   
(Dollars in thousands)
 
                   
Voice
  $ 3,137,921       2,168,480       1,043,386  
Data
    1,908,901       1,202,284       524,194  
Network access
    1,079,678       927,905       651,038  
Other
    915,034       675,570       381,129  
Operating revenues
  $ 7,041,534       4,974,239       2,599,747  
 
Beginning in 2010, we have reclassified revenues generated from subscriber line charges to “Voice” revenues from “Network access” revenues to better align our presentation of such revenues with others in our industry and we have included revenues generated from our fiber transport, CLEC and security monitoring operations in “Other” revenues.  Prior periods have been adjusted to reflect the new presentation.

Voice revenues.   We derive voice revenues by providing local exchange telephone services and retail long distance services to customers in our service areas.  The $969.4 million increase in voice revenues is primarily due to $1.047 billion of additional revenues attributable to the Embarq properties acquired July 1, 2009.  The remaining $77.8 million decrease is primarily due to (i) a $35.3 million decrease due to a 6.2% decline in the average number of access lines in our legacy CenturyLink markets; (ii) a $13.7 million decrease in custom calling feature revenues primarily due to the continued migration of customers to bundled service offerings at a lower rate; (iii) an $11.1 million reduction in long distance revenues due primarily to a decrease in minutes of use; and (vi) a $9.1 million reduction due to the elimination of all intercompany transactions due to the above-described discontinuance of regulatory accounting.

The $1.125 billion increase in voice revenues in 2009 is primarily due to $1.199 billion of revenues attributable to the Embarq properties acquired July 1, 2009.  The remaining $73.9 million decrease is primarily due to (i) a $42.0 million decrease due to a 6.6% decline in the average number of access lines in our incumbent markets; (ii) a $14.5 million decrease in custom calling feature revenues primarily due to the continued migration of customers to bundled service offerings at a lower effective rate and (iii) an $8.1 million reduction due to the elimination of all intercompany transactions due to the discontinuance of regulatory accounting.
 
Total access lines declined 535,000 during 2010 compared to a decline of 380,000 during 2009 (excluding access lines we acquired from Embarq on July 1, 2009 but including access lines lost in Embarq’s markets following such acquisition).  We believe the decline in the number of access lines during 2010 is primarily due to the displacement of traditional wireline telephone services by other competitive services and recent economic conditions.  Based on our current retention initiatives, we estimate that our access line loss will be between 7.0% and 7.5% in 2011 (exclusive of the impact of access line loss in the properties we expect to acquire from Qwest in 2011).
 
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Data revenues.  We derive our data revenues primarily by providing high-speed Internet access services and data transmission services over special circuits and private lines.  Data revenues increased $706.6 million in 2010 due to $735.1 million of additional revenues attributable to Embarq.  Excluding Embarq, data revenues decreased $28.5 million due to a $52.9 million reduction due to the elimination of all intercompany transactions due to the discontinuance of regulatory accounting.  The remaining $24.4 million increase is primarily attributable to an increase in DSL-related revenues principally due to growth in the number of DSL customers and an increase in special access revenues due to increased demand for such services.

Data revenues increased $678.1 million in 2009 due to $689.8 million of revenues attributable to Embarq.  Excluding Embarq, data revenues decreased $11.7 million due to a $51.4 million reduction due to the elimination of all intercompany transactions resulting from the discontinuance of regulatory accounting.  Such decrease was partially offset by a $38.5 million increase in DSL-related revenues primarily due to growth in the number of DSL customers in our incumbent markets.
 
Network access revenues.  We derive our network access revenues primarily from (i) providing services to various carriers and customers in connection with the use of our facilities to originate and terminate their interstate and intrastate voice transmissions; (ii) receiving universal support funds which allows us to recover a portion of our costs under federal and state cost recovery mechanisms; (iii) receiving reciprocal compensation from competitive local exchange carriers and wireless service providers for terminating their calls; and (iv) offering certain network facilities and related services to CLECs.  Substantially all of our interstate network access revenues are based on tariffed access charges prescribed by the FCC.  Certain of our intrastate network access revenues are derived through access charges that we bill to intrastate long distance carriers and other LEC customers.
 
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Network access revenues increased $151.8 million in 2010 and $276.9 million in 2009 due to the following factors:
 
   
2010
   
2009
 
   
increase
   
increase
 
   
(decrease)
   
(decrease)
 
   
(Dollars in thousands)
 
             
Acquisition of Embarq on July 1, 2009
  $ 247,615       347,680  
Reduced recoveries from the federal Universal Service High Cost Loop support program
    (35,815 )     (12,964 )
Reduced intrastate revenues due to decreased minutes of use, decreased access rates in certain states and recoveries from state support funds
    (17,275 )     (35,406 )
Elimination of all intercompany transactions due to the discontinuance of regulatory accounting
    (21,509 )     (26,031 )
Reduced partial recovery of operating costs through revenue sharing arrangements with other telephone companies, interstate access revenues and return on rate base
    (13,441 )     (5,930 )
Prior year revenue settlement agreements and other
    (7,802 )     9,518  
    $ 151,773       276,867  
 
As mentioned above, upon the discontinuance of regulatory accounting effective July 1, 2009, we began eliminating all intercompany transactions with regulated affiliates that previously were not eliminated under the application of regulatory accounting.

We believe that access rates and minutes of use will continue to decline in conjunction with losses of access lines and substitution of other alternatives, although we cannot precisely estimate the magnitude of such decrease.  Complaints filed by interexchange carriers in several of our operating states or state initiated legislation could, if successful, place further downward pressure on our intrastate access rates.  We also expect our network access revenues to continue to be negatively impacted in 2011 by a reduction in Universal Service Fund receipts.  In addition, delays in the migration of traffic of a wireless carrier off our networks in 2010 will reduce our operating revenues in 2011.  Based on our current estimates, we believe these items in the aggregate will reduce network access revenues approximately $160-180 million in 2011 as compared to 2010.
 
Other revenues.  We derive other revenues primarily by (i) providing fiber transport, CLEC and security monitoring services; (ii) leasing, selling, installing and maintaining customer premise telecommunications equipment and wiring; (iii) providing payphone services primarily within our local service territories and various correctional facilities around the country; (iv) participating in the publication of local directories, which allows us to share in revenues generated by the sale of yellow page and related advertising to businesses; (v) providing network database services; and (vi) providing certain other new product and service offerings.  Other revenues increased $239.5 million in 2010 due to $272.1 million of additional revenues attributable to Embarq.  Excluding Embarq, other revenues decreased $32.7 million primarily due to a $20.8 million reduction due to the elimination of all intercompany transactions as a result of the discontinuance of regulatory accounting, a $7.1 million decrease in directory revenues and a $5.5 million decrease in certain non-regulated product sales and service offerings.
 
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Other revenues increased $294.4 million in 2009, of which approximately $326.5 million related to our acquisition of Embarq.  Excluding Embarq, other revenues decreased $32.1 million primarily as a result of a $22.0 million reduction due to the elimination of all intercompany transactions resulting from the discontinuance of regulatory accounting and a $10.5 million decrease in certain non-regulated product sales and service offerings.
 

 
OPERATING EXPENSES
 
Year ended December 31,
 
2010
   
2009
   
2008
 
   
(Dollars in thousands) 
 
                   
Cost of services and products (exclusive of depreciation and amortization)
  $ 2,410,048       1,752,087       955,473  
Selling, general and administrative
    1,137,989       1,014,341       399,136  
Depreciation and amortization
    1,433,553       974,710       523,786  
Operating expenses
  $ 4,981,590       3,741,138       1,878,395  
 
Cost of services and products.   Cost of services and products increased $658.0 million (37.6%) in 2010 primarily due to a $758.2 million increase in expenses incurred by Embarq (which includes approximately $36.6 million of integration costs and an incremental $8.0 million of costs associated with employee severance benefits and is partially offset by a curtailment gain of approximately $5.9 million associated with freezing certain future benefit accruals related to our defined benefit pension plans).  The remaining $100.3 million decrease is primarily due to (i) an $89.4 million reduction in expenses resulting from the elimination of all intercompany transactions resulting from the discontinuance of regulatory accounting; (ii) a $13.1 million decrease in access expense and (iii) a $10.4 million decrease in transport costs associated with our long distance operations.

Cost of services and products increased $796.6 million (83.4%) in 2009 primarily due to $888.8 million of expenses attributable to the Embarq properties acquired on July 1, 2009.  The remaining $92.2 million decrease is primarily due to (i) a $88.7 million reduction in expenses resulting from the elimination of all intercompany transactions resulting from the discontinuance of regulatory accounting; (ii) a $4.9 million decrease in customer service related expenses; (iii) a $4.6 million decrease in access expense; and (iv) a $4.1 million decrease in CLEC expenses as a result of the divestiture of six CLEC markets in 2008.  Such decreases were partially offset by a $15.8 million increase in salaries, wages and benefits primarily due to increases in pension expense and share-based compensation expense and a $12.4 million increase in DSL-related expenses due to an increase in the number of DSL customers served.

            Selling, general and administrative.   Selling, general and administrative expenses increased $123.6 million in 2010 primarily due to a $170.4 million increase in expenses incurred by Embarq. The $170.4 million increase is net of (i) a $98.0 million reduction of severance costs and accelerated recognition of share based compensation and pension costs due to workforce reductions incurred during 2010 as compared to similar expenses incurred during 2009; (ii) $47.2 million of transaction related costs incurred in 2009 related to the Embarq acquisition; (iii) a $31.4 million reduction in integration costs related to our acquisition of Embarq and (iv) a 2010 curtailment gain of approximately $15.0 million associated with freezing certain future defined benefit pension accruals.  During 2010, we also incurred approximately $22.3 million of transaction and other costs associated with our pending acquisition of Qwest.  Such increases were partially offset by (i) a $31.5 million reduction in salaries and benefits (which includes $16.6 million of one-time charges related to a supplemental executive pension plan in 2009); (ii) a $17.4 million decrease in legal costs, and (iii) a $14.9 million reduction in expenses due to the elimination of all intercompany transactions due to the discontinuance of regulatory accounting.
 
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Selling, general and administrative expenses increased $615.2 million in 2009 primarily due to $500.6 million of expenses attributable to operating Embarq for the second half of 2009 (which includes approximately $106.0 million of costs associated with employee termination benefits, primarily due to severance and retention benefits, contractual pension benefits and acceleration of share-based compensation expense associated with Embarq employee terminations).  The remaining $114.6 million increase is primarily due to (i) $86.4 million of integration costs associated with our acquisition of Embarq, primarily related to system conversion efforts; (ii) $47.2 million of transaction related merger costs, including investment banker and legal fees associated with our acquisition of Embarq; and (iii) $13.8 million of higher employee benefit costs, primarily due to higher pension expense (primarily due to accelerated expense recognition due to change of control provisions triggered upon our acquisition of Embarq and the termination of a supplemental executive retirement plan) and share-based compensation expense (due to the accelerated vesting of equity grants of our employees upon the acquisition of Embarq).  Such increases were partially offset by (i) a $19.5 million reduction in expenses resulting from the elimination of all intercompany transactions due to the discontinuance of regulatory accounting; (ii) a $10.7 million reduction in operating taxes primarily due to the favorable resolution of certain transaction tax audit issues; and (iii) an $8.1 million reduction in marketing expenses.
 
Depreciation and amortization.  Depreciation and amortization increased $458.8 million in 2010 primarily due to $480.8 million of additional depreciation and amortization attributable to Embarq (including $69.3 million of additional amortization expense related to the customer list and other intangible assets acquired in connection with the Embarq transaction) and a $22.4 million increase due to higher levels of plant in service in our legacy markets.  The remaining decrease was primarily due to a $19.1 million decrease in depreciation expense due to a change in certain depreciation rates effective July 1, 2009 upon the discontinuance of regulatory accounting and a $24.5 million decrease due to certain assets becoming fully depreciated.

Depreciation and amortization increased $450.9 million in 2009 primarily due to $492.6 million of depreciation and amortization attributable to Embarq (including $118.4 million of amortization expense related to its customer list and other intangible assets).  The remaining $41.7 million decrease was primarily due to a $59.8 million decrease in depreciation expense resulting from a reduction in certain depreciation rates effective July 1, 2009 upon the discontinuance of regulatory accounting (see Note 16) and due to certain assets becoming fully depreciated.  Such decreases were partially offset by an $18.8 million increase due to higher levels of plant placed in service in our incumbent markets.
 
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Other.   For additional information regarding certain matters that have impacted or may impact our operations, see “Regulation and Competition”.
          
 
INTEREST EXPENSE
 
Interest expense increased $187.1 million in 2010 compared to 2009 primarily due to interest expense attributable to Embarq’s indebtedness assumed in connection with our acquisition of Embarq.

Interest expense increased $168.2 million in 2009 compared to 2008 primarily due to $179.9 million of interest expense attributable to Embarq’s indebtedness assumed in connection with our acquisition of Embarq.  The remaining $11.7 million decrease is primarily attributable to a $4.6 million decrease in interest expense due to favorable resolution of certain transaction tax audit issues and a $4.7 million one-time reduction in interest expense in 2009 related to debt extinguishment transactions consummated in October 2009.  See Note 6 for additional information.

 
OTHER INCOME (EXPENSE)
 
Other income (expense) includes the effects of certain items not directly related to our core operations, including gains or losses from nonoperating asset dispositions and impairments, our share of the income from our 49% interest in a cellular partnership, interest income and allowance for funds used during construction.  Other income (expense) was $29.6 million for 2010 compared to $(48.2) million for 2009 and $42.3 million in 2008.

Included in 2009 is (i) a $72.0 million pre-tax charge related to certain debt extinguishment transactions consummated in October 2009 (see Note 6 for additional information) and (ii) an $8.0 million pre-tax charge associated with terminating our $800 million bridge credit facility (see Note 2 for additional information).  Included in 2008 is (i) approximately $10.0 million related to the recognition of previously accrued transaction related and other contingencies; (ii) a pre-tax gain of $4.5 million upon the liquidation of our investments in marketable securities in our SERP trust; (iii) a pre-tax gain of approximately $7.3 million from the sales of certain nonoperating investments; and (iv) a $3.4 million pre-tax charge related to terminating all of our existing derivative instruments in the first quarter of 2008.  Our share of income from our 49% interest in a cellular partnership decreased $2.7 million in 2010 compared to 2009 and increased $7.0 million in 2009 compared to 2008. We record our share of the partnership income based on unaudited results of operations until the time we receive audited financial statements for the partnership from the unaffiliated general partner.  In 2008, we recorded unfavorable adjustments upon receipt of the partnership’s audited financial statements for 2007.
 
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INCOME TAX EXPENSE
           
    The effective income tax rate was 38.1%, 37.2%, and 34.7% for 2010, 2009 and 2008, respectively.  Certain executive compensation amounts, including the lump sum distributions paid to certain executive officers in connection with discontinuing the Supplemental Executive Retirement Plan (see Note 12), are reflected as non-deductible for income tax purposes pursuant to executive compensation limitations prescribed by the Internal Revenue Code.  Our inability to deduct these amounts resulted in the recognition of approximately $3.3 million and $9.8 million of income tax expense in 2010 and 2009 above amounts that would have been recognized had such payments been deductible for income tax purposes.  Our 2010 and 2009 effective tax rate is also higher because a portion of our merger-related transaction costs incurred during those years are non-deductible for income tax purposes (with such treatment resulting in a $3.9 million and $7.4 million increase to income tax expense in 2010 and 2009, respectively).  In 2009, such increase in our effective tax rate was partially offset by a $7.0 million reduction to our deferred tax asset valuation allowance associated with state net operating loss carryforwards.

Income tax expense was reduced by approximately $15.7 million in 2009 and $12.8 million in 2008 due to the recognition of previously unrecognized tax benefits (see Critical Accounting Policies below and Note 13) and other adjustments upon finalization of tax returns.  

EXTRAORDINARY ITEM

Upon the discontinuance of regulatory accounting on July 1, 2009, we recorded a one-time extraordinary gain of approximately $136.0 million after-tax.  See Note 16 for additional information related to this extraordinary gain.

  
ACCOUNTING PRONOUNCEMENTS
 
    In September 2009, the Financial Accounting Standards Board updated the accounting standard regarding revenue recognition for multiple deliverable arrangements, such as the service bundles that we offer to our customers. This update requires the use of the relative selling price method when allocating revenue in these types of arrangements. This method allows a vendor to use its best estimate of selling price if neither vendor specific objective evidence nor third party evidence of selling price exists when evaluating multiple deliverable arrangements. This standard update is effective January 1, 2011 and may be adopted prospectively for revenue arrangements entered into or materially modified after the date of adoption or retrospectively for all revenue arrangements for all periods presented.  We currently do not expect this standard update to have a material impact on our consolidated financial statements.

We are subject to certain accounting standards that define fair value, establish a framework for measuring fair value and expand the disclosures about fair value measurements required or permitted under other accounting pronouncements.  The fair value accounting guidance establishes a three-tier fair value hierarchy, which prioritizes the inputs used to measure fair value.  These tiers include: Level 1 (defined as observable inputs such as quoted market prices in active markets), Level 2 (defined as inputs other than quoted prices in active markets that are either directly or indirectly observable), and Level 3 (defined as unobservable inputs in which little or no market data exists).   See Note 19 for additional information.  In January 2010, we adopted the accounting standard update regarding fair value measurements and disclosures, which requires additional disclosures and explanations for transfers of financial assets and liabilities between certain levels in the fair value hierarchy. The adoption of this accounting standard update did not have a material impact on our condensed consolidated financial statements.
 
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CRITICAL ACCOUNTING POLICIES
 
    Our financial statements are prepared in accordance with accounting principles that are generally accepted in the United States.  The preparation of these financial statements requires management to make estimates and assumptions that affect the reported amounts of assets, liabilities, revenues and expenses.  We continually evaluate our estimates and assumptions including those related to (i) revenue recognition, (ii) allowance for doubtful accounts, (iii) pension and postretirement benefits, (iv) intangible and long-lived assets, (v) depreciation and amortization of long-lived assets; (vi) business combinations and (vii) income taxes.  Actual results may differ from these estimates and assumptions and these differences may be material.  We believe these critical accounting policies discussed below involve a higher degree of judgment or complexity.
 
    Revenue recognition.  We collect in advance fees for fixed rate services, such as local service, unlimited long distance, high-speed Internet and certain data services, and defer revenue recognition until these services are provided to the customer.  We bill in arrears variable rate billing services, including usage-based long distance, data and access revenues. We have multiple billing cycles spread throughout each month resulting in accounts receivables and deferred revenue balances at the end of each reporting period.  In the event that the variable rate usage data is not available at the end of a reporting period, we estimate revenue based on historic usage and other relevant factors.  Service activation and installation fees are deferred and amortized on a straight-line basis over our average customer lives.  Operating revenues include certain revenue reserves for billing disputes and contract interpretations.  These reserves require management’s judgment and are based on many factors including historical trends, contract and tariff interpretations and developments during the resolution process.  
 
    Allowance for doubtful accounts.  We maintain an allowance for doubtful accounts for estimated losses that result from the failure of our customers to make required payments.  In evaluating the collectibility of our accounts receivable, we assess a number of factors, including a specific customer’s or carrier’s ability to meet its financial obligations to us, the length of time the receivable has been past due and historical collection experience.  Based on these assessments, we record both specific and general reserves for uncollectible accounts receivable to reduce the related accounts receivable to the amount we ultimately expect to collect from customers and carriers.  Our reserves for accounts receivable generally increase as the receivable ages.  If circumstances change or economic conditions worsen such that our past collection experience is no longer relevant, we may need to increase our reserves from the levels reflected in our accompanying consolidated balance sheet.
 
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    Pension and postretirement benefits.  Accounting for pensions and postretirement benefits involves estimating the cost of benefits to be provided well into the future and attributing that cost over the time period each employee provides service to us.  To accomplish this, extensive use is made of various assumptions, such as discount rates, investment returns, mortality, turnover, medical costs and inflation through a collaborative effort by management and independent actuaries.  These efforts are designed to provide management with the necessary information on which to base its judgment and develop the estimates used to prepare the financial statements.  Changes in assumptions used could result in a material impact to our financial results in any given period.  Our actuarial estimates of retiree benefit expense and the associated significant assumptions are discussed in Notes 11 and 12.
 
A significant assumption used in determining our pension and postretirement expense is the expected long-term rate of return on plan assets.  For 2010 and 2009, we utilized an expected long-term rate of return on plan assets of 8.25% for our incumbent pension plan and 8.50% for the pension plan we assumed in connection with the Embarq acquisition.  In setting the long-term assumed rate of return, management considers capital markets’ future expectations and the asset mix of the plans’ investments.  If all other factors were to remain unchanged, a 50 basis point decrease in the assumed long-term rate of return would cause combined pension and postretirement cost to increase by approximately $18 million.  Should we experience asset returns that are significantly below our long-term rate of return assumptions, we may experience in the future higher levels of pension expense, higher levels of required contributions and lower stockholders’ equity balances (due to accumulated other comprehensive losses).  For 2011, we are reducing our long-term assumed rate of return assumption to 7.5% for our legacy CenturyLink pension plan and 8.0% for our legacy Embarq pension plan.  Such reduction in our assumed rate of asset return is primarily due to lower prevailing bond yields.
 
Another assumption used in the determination of our pension and postretirement benefit plan obligations is the appropriate discount rate.  The discount rate is an assumed rate of return derived from high-quality debt securities that, if applicable at the measurement date to a specified amount of principal, would provide the necessary future cash flows to pay our pension benefit obligations when they become due.  For our pension plan, the discount rate used for the December 31, 2010 measurement date was derived by matching projected benefit payments to bond yields obtained from a hypothetical yield curve from Aa-rated corporate bonds.  For the years ended December 31, 2009 and 2008, we utilized a similar process using as a reference the CitiGroup Pension Discount Curve (Above Median) to derive our discount rate.  Our discount rate for determining benefit obligations under our pension plans at December 31, 2010 ranged from 5.0 to 5.5% compared to 5.5 to 6.0% at December 31, 2009.  The discount rate can change from year to year based on market conditions that impact corporate bond yields.  We use a similar methodology to determine the discount rate for our postretirement plan by utilizing as a reference the Hewitt Top Quartile Yield Curve as of the end of the year.  Our discount rate for determining benefit obligations under our postretirement plans at December 31, 2010 was 5.30% compared to 5.70-5.80% at December 31, 2009.  We estimate that a 25 basis point decrease in the assumed discount rate would increase our combined pension and postretirement benefit obligations by approximately $148 million.
 
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    Intangible and long-lived assets.  We are subject to testing for impairment of long-lived assets (including goodwill, intangible assets and other long-lived assets) based on applicable accounting guidelines.

We are required to review goodwill recorded in business combinations for impairment at least annually and are required to write-down the value of goodwill only in periods in which the recorded amount of goodwill exceeds the fair value.  As disclosed in the table below, substantially all of our goodwill is associated with our local exchange telephone operations.  Subsequent to our acquisition of Embarq on July 1, 2009, we have managed our local exchange telephone operations based on five geographic regions (which we internally refer to as Mid-Atlantic, Southern, South Central, Northeast and Western) and have considered these five operating regions to be our reporting units in testing for goodwill impairment of our telephone operations.  The remainder of our goodwill is associated with our competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC), fiber transport, security monitoring and other operations of our business, all of which we treat as separate reporting units in our goodwill impairment testing.

The breakdown of our goodwill balances as of December 31, 2010 by reporting unit is as follows (amounts in thousands):
 
Telephone operations (Mid-Atlantic)
  $ 2,227,596  
Telephone operations (Southern)
    2,297,064  
Telephone operations (South Central)
    2,487,536  
Telephone operations (Northeast)
    2,252,288  
Telephone operations (Western)
    946,367  
CLEC operations
    29,935  
Fiber transport operations
    10,607  
Security monitoring operations
    4,966  
All other operations
    4,281  
Total goodwill
  $ 10,260,640  
 
We estimate the fair value of our telephone operations reporting units using multiples of earnings before interest, taxes and depreciation (EBITDA).  For each telephone reporting unit, we compare its estimated fair value to its carrying value.  If the estimated fair value of the reporting unit is greater than the carrying value, we conclude that no impairment exists.  If the fair value of the reporting unit is less than the carrying value, a second calculation is required in which the implied fair value of goodwill is compared to its carrying value.  If the implied fair value of goodwill is less than its carrying value, goodwill must be written down to its implied fair value.
 
The multiple of EBITDA we utilize in our goodwill impairment testing for our telephone operations is supported by an independent valuation analysis performed by a major investment banking firm.  For the past several years, we have utilized EBITDA multiples derived from comparable independent analysis.  The EBITDA multiple derived in the independent reports and utilized in our goodwill impairment testing was 5.8 in 2010, 5.6 in 2009 and 6.5 in 2008.  We believe the decline in EBITDA multiples since 2008 is primarily due to, among other factors, the continued erosion of access lines.
 
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We estimate the fair value of our other reporting units using various methods, including multiples of EBITDA (as described above) and multiples of revenues.

As of September 30, 2010, we completed the required annual test of goodwill impairment and concluded that our goodwill was not impaired as of that date.  However, as of that date, the estimated fair value of the Southern region exceeded its carrying value by less than 10%.  Should events occur (such as continued access line losses or other revenue reductions) that would cause the fair value to decline below its carrying value, we may be required to record a non-cash charge to earnings during the period in which the impairment is determined.
 
    The carrying value of long-lived assets other than goodwill is reviewed for impairment whenever events or circumstances indicate that such carrying amount cannot be recoverable by assessing the recoverability of the carrying value through estimated undiscounted net cash flows expected to be generated by the assets.  If the undiscounted net cash flows are less than the carrying value, an impairment loss would be measured as the excess of the carrying value of a long-lived asset over its fair value. 

Depreciation and amortization of long-lived assets.  Our depreciation of property, plant and equipment, including the use of group depreciation for our telephone operations and estimates of useful lives, is discussed in Note 1.  We assign useful lives based on annual studies of actual asset lives, taking into account actual usage, replacement history and assumptions about technology evolution and access line losses.  No significant changes to our remaining useful lives occurred as a result of our study performed in 2010.

We also have significant customer list intangible assets, the vast majority of which is attributable to our July 1, 2009 Embarq acquisition.  The customer list intangible assets from our Embarq acquisition are finite-lived intangible assets and are amortized using an accelerated method over the period in which those relationships are expected to contribute to our future cash flows.  The accelerated method employed is a process of allocation which reflects our belief that we expect greater revenue generation from these customer relationships during the earlier years of their lives.  Amortization of other intangible assets is determined using the straight-line method of amortization over the expected remaining useful lives.

We periodically evaluate our intangible assets to insure that our current amortization method and remaining useful lives are appropriate.

Business combinations. The new accounting guidance for business combinations was effective for us for all business combinations consummated on or after January 1, 2009 and requires an acquiring entity to recognize all of the assets acquired and liabilities assumed at the acquisition date fair value.  The allocation of the purchase price to the assets acquired and liabilities assumed from Embarq (and the related estimated lives of depreciable tangible and identifiable intangible assets) was finalized during 2010 at the end of the one-year measurement period and required a significant amount of judgment.   Such allocation of certain aspects of the purchase price to items that are more complex to value was performed by an independent valuation firm based on information provided by management.  See Note 2 for additional information concerning the assignment of fair values to the assets and assumed liabilities of Embarq.  We will similarly assign fair values to the assets and liabilities acquired from our pending acquisition of Qwest, which we expect to close during 2011.
 
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Income taxes.  We estimate our current and deferred income taxes based on our assessment of the future tax consequences of transactions that have been reflected in our financial statements or applicable tax returns.  Actual income taxes paid could vary from these estimates due to several factors, including future changes in income tax law or the resolution of audits by federal and state taxing authorities.  We maintain liabilities for unrecognized tax benefits for various uncertain tax positions taken in our tax returns.  These liabilities are estimated based on our judgment of the probable outcome of the uncertain tax positions and are adjusted periodically based on changing facts and circumstances.  Changes to the liabilities for unrecognized tax benefits could materially affect operating results in the period of change.  During 2009 and 2008, we recognized approximately $15.7 million and $12.8 million, respectively, of previously unrecognized tax benefits (including related interest and net of federal tax benefit) and other adjustments upon finalization of tax returns.  Such benefits were recorded primarily as a result of the favorable resolution of audits, administrative practices and the lapse of statute of limitations in certain jurisdictions.  See Note 13 for additional information regarding our unrecognized tax benefits.
 
    For additional information on our critical accounting policies, see “Accounting Pronouncements” and “Regulation and Competition – Other Matters” below, and the Notes to our consolidated financial statements included elsewhere herein.
             
 
MARKET RISK
 
 
    We are exposed to market risk from changes in interest rates on our long-term debt obligations.  We have estimated our market risk using sensitivity analysis.  Market risk is defined as the potential change in the fair value of a fixed-rate debt obligation due to a hypothetical adverse change in interest rates.  We determine fair value of long-term debt obligations based on a discounted cash flow analysis, using the rates and maturities of  these obligations compared to terms and rates currently available in the long-term financing markets.  The results of the sensitivity analysis used to estimate market risk are presented below, although the actual results may differ from these estimates.

At December 31, 2010, we estimated the fair value of our long-term debt to be $8.0 billion based on the overall weighted average interest rate of our debt of  7.0% and an overall weighted maturity of 11 years compared to terms and rates currently available in long-term financing markets.  As of December 31, 2010, approximately 95% of our long-term debt obligations were fixed rate.  Market risk is estimated as the potential decrease in fair value of our long-term debt resulting from a hypothetical increase of 70 basis points in prevailing interest rates (ten percent of our overall weighted average borrowing rate).  Such an increase in interest rates would result in approximately a $331.9 million decrease in the fair value of our fixed-rate long-term debt at December 31, 2010, but would have no impact on our interest expense or cash flows.    A 100 basis point increase in prevailing variable interest rates would have had a negative pre-tax impact of approximately $1.7 million on our results of operations and cash flows for the twelve months ended December 31, 2010, but would have no impact on the fair value of our long-term variable-rate debt.
 
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From time to time over the past several years, we have used derivative instruments to (i) lock-in or swap our exposure to changing or variable interest rates for fixed interest rates or (ii) to swap obligations to pay fixed interest rates for variable interest rates.  We have established policies and procedures for risk assessment and the approval, reporting and monitoring of derivative instrument activities.  We do not hold or issue derivative financial instruments for trading or speculative purposes.  Management periodically reviews our exposure to interest rate fluctuations and implements strategies to manage the exposure.   Currently, we have no derivative instruments in place.

We are also exposed to market risk from changes in the fair value of our pension plan assets.   The pension plan we assumed in connection with the Embarq acquisition was underfunded by approximately $667 million with respect to the projected benefit obligation as of December 31, 2010.  We contributed $300 million and $115 million to the legacy Embarq pension plan during 2010 and the last half of 2009, respectively.  We currently expect to contribute approximately $100 million to the legacy Embarq pension plan in 2011.  Based on current actuarial estimates as of December 31, 2010 that assume a $100 million contribution in 2011 and the utilization of our existing remaining credit balance to partially satisfy future required cash contributions, our estimated future contributions for the 2012-2014 time period ranges from approximately $75-185 million per year for all of our pension plans.  The actual level of contributions required in future years can change significantly depending on discount rates and actual returns on plan assets.  See “Critical Accounting Policies – Pension and Postretirement Benefits”

Certain shortcomings are inherent in the method of analysis presented in the computation of fair value of financial instruments.  Actual values may differ from those presented if market conditions vary from assumptions used in the fair value calculations.  The analysis above incorporates only those risk exposures that existed as of December 31, 2010.

 

 
LIQUIDITY AND CAPITAL RESOURCES
 

Excluding cash used for acquisitions, we rely on cash provided by operations to fund our operating and capital expenditures as well as our dividend payments.   Our operations have historically provided a stable source of cash flow which has helped us continue our long-term program of capital improvements.
 
 
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Operating activities.  Net cash provided by operating activities was $2.045 billion, $1.574 billion and $853.3 million in 2010, 2009 and 2008, respectively.  Payments for income taxes aggregated $431.7 million, $258.9 million and $208.8 million in 2010, 2009 and 2008, respectively.  In 2009, we paid approximately $54 million to fund lump sum distributions under our frozen supplemental executive retirement plan upon the discontinuance of such plan and under change of control provisions triggered upon the acquisition of Embarq.  We also contributed $300 million and $115 million to the legacy Embarq pension plan during 2010 and the last half of 2009, respectively.  Our accompanying consolidated statements of cash flows identify major differences between net income and net cash provided by operating activities for each of these periods.  For additional information relating to our operations, see “Results of Operations” above.
 
    Investing activities.  Net cash used in investing activities was $859.1 million, $678.8 million and $389.0 million in 2010, 2009 and 2008, respectively.  Payments for property, plant and equipment were $863.8 million in 2010, $754.5 million in 2009 (which includes $396.1 million of capital expenditures attributable to our Embarq operations subsequent to our July 1, 2009 acquisition of Embarq) and $286.8 million in 2008.  Capital expenditures for 2010 and 2009 include approximately $29.0 million and $75.1 million, respectively, of one-time capital expenditures related to the integration of Embarq.    

On July 1, 2009, we consummated the acquisition of Embarq Corporation by issuing approximately $6.0 billion of CenturyLink common stock (valued as of June 30, 2009). We financed our merger transaction expenses with (i) available cash of the combined company and (ii) proceeds from CenturyLink’s and Embarq’s existing revolving credit facilities.  We acquired $76.9 million of cash in connection with our acquisition of Embarq.

During 2008, we paid an aggregate of approximately $149 million for 69 licenses in the FCC’s auction of 700 megahertz wireless spectrum.  Our plan has been to use the spectrum to develop wireless voice and data service capabilities in our markets, built upon LTE (Long-Term Evolution) technology.  The LTE network deployment plans of larger wireless carriers are driving most vendor activity, including the availability of handsets and other end-user devices.  Therefore, we are monitoring their deployment efforts to help shape our plans for moving forward. 
 
In anticipation of making lump sum distributions to certain participants of our SERP in early 2009, we liquidated our investments in marketable securities in the SERP trust during the second quarter of 2008 and thereby increased our cash and cash equivalents by $34.9 million.  As noted above, the lump sum distributions were paid in 2009 and aggregated approximately $54 million.
 
    Financing activities.  Net cash used in financing activities was $1.175 billion during 2010, $976.4 million during 2009 and $255.4 million in 2008.   In October 2010, we repaid our $482.5 million Series H Senior Notes at its scheduled maturity using borrowings under our existing credit facility.  In September 2009, we received net proceeds of $644.4 million from the issuance of $250 million of 10-year, 6.15% senior notes and $400 million of 30-year, 7.6% senior notes.  In October 2009, the proceeds from these note offerings, along with additional borrowings under our existing credit facility, were used to repurchase an aggregate of $746.1 million of CenturyLink, Inc. and Embarq indebtedness (see Note 6 for additional information).  During 2008, we paid our $240 million Series F Senior Notes at maturity primarily using borrowings from our credit facility.
 
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In June 2008, our Board of Directors (i) increased our annual cash dividend to $2.80 from $.27 per share and (ii) declared a one-time dividend of $.6325 per share, which was paid in July 2008, effectively adjusting the total second quarter dividend to the new $.70 quarterly dividend rate. In February 2010, our Board of Directors further increased our quarterly dividend to $.725 per share.  We paid dividends of $878.0 million in 2010, $560.7 million in 2009 and $220.3 million in 2008.  Such increase is primarily attributable to the dividend rate increases mentioned above and the substantial increase in shares outstanding as a result of the common stock issued in connection with our Embarq acquisition on July 1, 2009.  Based on current circumstances, we intend to continue our current dividend practice, subject to any other factors that our Board in its discretion deems relevant.

In accordance with previously announced stock repurchase programs, we repurchased 9.7 million shares (for $347.3 million) in 2008.

As of December 31, 2010, we had available two unsecured revolving credit facilities, (i) a five-year, $750 million facility of CenturyLink and (ii) an $800 million facility of Embarq.   As of December 31, 2010, we had approximately $365.0 million outstanding under these credit facilities (all of which related to CenturyLink’s facility).

In January 2011, we entered into a new four-year revolving credit facility that allows us to borrow up to $1.0 billion initially with the total capacity of the credit facility increasing to $1.7 billion upon the consummation of our pending acquisition of Qwest.  Up to $400 million of this new credit facility can be used for letters of credit.  Interest will be assessed on future borrowings using the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) plus an applicable margin between .5% and 2.5% per annum depending on the type of loan and our then current senior unsecured long-term debt rating.  Upon the execution of the new credit facility, the two credit facilities mentioned above were terminated.  As of February 28, 2011, we had $280 million outstanding under the new credit facility.  For additional information regarding our new credit facility, see Note 22.

As was the case with our predecessor credit facilities, (i) outstanding letters of credit directly reduce the amount available for other extensions of credit under our new credit facility and (ii) outstanding borrowings under our commercial paper program, which effectively cannot exceed the amount available under our new facility, effectively have the same result on our borrowing capacity under the new facility.  As of February 28, 2011, approximately $61 million of letters of credit were outstanding and no amounts were outstanding under our commercial paper program.
 
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    Other.  For 2011, we have budgeted approximately $1.0 billion for capital expenditures (excluding any capital related to the integration of the Embarq acquisition or the pending Qwest acquisition).  Such increase over the $863.8 million of capital expenditures in 2010 is due to our planned incremental fiber to the tower investment in 2011.  Our 2011 capital expenditure budget also includes amounts for expanding our new service offerings and our data networks.  We currently expect aggregate integration-related capital expenditures associated with our pending Qwest acquisition will approximate $200 million over the next two years.

The pension plan we assumed in our acquisition of Embarq was approximately $667 million underfunded as compared to the projected benefit obligation as of December 31, 2010.  If this underfunded status continues, we may be required to contribute additional funds to our pension plan in the near future.  To reduce the underfunded position, in March 2010 we contributed $300 million to the legacy Embarq pension plan using cash on hand and borrowings from our credit facility.  We currently expect to contribute approximately $100 million to the legacy Embarq pension plan in 2011.  For further information, see Item 1A - Risk Factors, of this annual report.

The following table contains certain information concerning our material contractual obligations as of December 31, 2010.
                                                                                                                  
   
Payments due by period
 
Contractual
obligations
 
Total
   
2011
      2012-2013       2014-2015    
After
2015 and Other
 
   
(Dollars in thousands)
 
                                   
Long-term debt,  including current maturities and capital lease obligations  (1)
  $ 7,327,587       376,583       1,146,064       381,794       5,423,146  
                                         
Interest on long- term debt obligations
  $ 6,175,641       506,858       946,277       834,095       3,888,411  
                                         
Unrecognized tax benefits (2)
  $  76,997       -       -       -       76,997  
(1)  For additional information on the terms of our outstanding debt instruments, see Note 6.
(2)  Represents the amount of tax and interest we would pay assuming we are required to pay the entire amount that we have reserved for our unrecognized tax benefits (see Note 13 for additional information).  The timing of any payments for our unrecognized tax benefits cannot be predicted with certainty; therefore, such amount is reflected in the “After 2015 and Other” column in the above table.
 
    We continually evaluate the possibility of acquiring additional communications operations and expect to continue our long-term strategy of pursuing the acquisition of attractively-priced communications properties in exchange for cash, securities or both.  At any given time, we may be engaged in discussions or negotiations regarding additional acquisitions.  We generally do not announce our acquisitions or dispositions until we have entered into a preliminary or definitive agreement.  We may require additional financing in connection with any such acquisitions, the consummation of which could have a material impact on our financial condition or operations.  Approximately 4.1 million shares of our common stock and 200,000 shares of our preferred stock remain available for future issuance in connection with acquisitions under our acquisition shelf registration statement.  We also have access to debt and equity capital markets.
 
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    Following our announcement of our pending acquisition of Qwest, (i) Standard & Poor’s indicated that our current long-term debt rating of BBB- had been placed under watch for a possible downgrade; (ii) Moody’s Investors Service affirmed our current long-term debt rating of Baa3, but downgraded its outlook from stable to negative; and (iii) Fitch Ratings has rated our long-term debt BBB- with a negative watch.  It is expected that any downgrades would be made only following the completion of the Qwest acquisition.  Our commercial paper program is rated P-3 by Moody’s and A-3 by S&P.  Any downgrade in our credit ratings will increase our borrowing costs and commitment fees under our new revolving credit facility.  Downgrades could also restrict our access to the capital markets, increase our borrowing costs under new or replacement debt financings, or otherwise adversely affect the terms of future borrowings by, among other things, increasing the scope of our debt covenants and decreasing our financial or operating flexibility.

    The following table reflects our debt to total capitalization percentage and ratio of earnings to fixed charges and preferred stock dividends as of and for the years ended December 31, 2010, 2009 and 2008.  The debt to total capitalization ratio for 2010 and 2009 reflects our Embarq acquisition.  The ratio of earnings to fixed charges and preferred stock dividends calculation for 2009 reflects the operations of Embarq only since July 1, 2009.
 
   
2010
   
2009
   
2008
 
Debt to total capitalization
    43.2 %     45.0       51.2  
Ratio of earnings to fixed charges and preferred stock dividends*
    3.74       3.20       3.78  
* For purposes of the chart above, “earnings” consist of income before income taxes (before extraordinary item) and fixed charges, and “fixed charges” include our interest expense, including amortized debt issuance costs, and our preferred stock dividend costs.
 
Our debt to capitalization percentage will increase upon acquiring Qwest, which has $11.947 billion of long-term debt at December 31, 2010.
 

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REGULATION AND COMPETITION
 
    The communications industry continues to undergo various fundamental regulatory, legislative, competitive and technological changes.  These changes may have a significant impact on the future financial performance of all communications companies.
 
    Events affecting the communications industry.  Wireless telephone services increasingly constitute a significant source of competition with ILEC services, especially since wireless carriers have begun to compete effectively on the basis of price with more traditional telephone services.  Similarly, the growing prevalence of electronic mail, text messaging, social networking, and similar digital communications continue to reduce the demand for traditional landline voice services.  We anticipate these trends will continue.
 
Federal USF programs have undergone substantial changes since 1997, and are expected to experience more changes in the coming years.  Since May 2001, the FCC has administered its existing universal service support programs for rural telephone companies based on embedded, or historical, costs.  The FCC, in April 2010, proposed to replace the USF with a broadband “Connect America” fund that would modernize the current “voice only” funding mechanism and direct funding away from local voice services to advance broadband deployment in areas unserved or underserved by broadband communications, and in February 2011 sought public comments regarding creating this new broadband fund.  These developments have placed additional financial pressure on the amount of money that is necessary and available to provide support to all eligible service providers, including payments we receive from the USF High Cost Loop program.  Increases in the nationwide average cost per loop factor used to allocate funds among all USF recipients caused our revenues from the USF High Cost Loop program (excluding the effects of the additional six months of receipts recorded in 2010 as compared to 2009 due to the July 1, 2009 acquisition of Embarq) to decrease in 2010 when compared to 2009.  We anticipate that such revenues will continue to decline in 2011.  See Item 7 of Part II of this annual report for more information.
 
Technological developments have led to the development of new services that compete with traditional ILEC services.  Technological improvements have enabled cable television companies to provide alternatives to traditional circuit-switched telephone service over their cable networks, and several national cable companies have aggressively pursued this opportunity.  Improvements in the quality of VoIP service have led several cable, Internet, data and other communications companies, as well as start-up companies, to substantially increase their offerings of VoIP service to business and residential customers.  VoIP providers frequently offer features that cannot readily be provided by traditional ILECs and may price their services at or below those prices currently charged for traditional local and long distance telephone services.  Although over the past several years the FCC has increasingly subjected portions of VoIP operations to federal regulation, VoIP services currently operate under fewer regulatory constraints than LEC services.  For all these reasons, we cannot assure you that VoIP providers will not successfully compete for our customers.
 
Beginning in 2003, the FCC initiated a series of broad intercarrier compensation proceedings designed to create a uniform mechanism to be used by the entire telecommunications industry for payments between carriers originating, terminating, or carrying telecommunications traffic.  In connection therewith, the FCC has received intercarrier compensation proposals from several industry groups, and solicited public comments on a variety of topics related to access charges and intercarrier compensation.  Most recently, on February 8, 2011, the FCC sought comments from the public on proposals designed to lower intercarrier compensation rates.  The ultimate outcome of the FCC’s intercarrier compensation proceedings could change the way we receive compensation from, and remit compensation to, other carriers, our end user customers and the USF.  As discussed further in Item 1A of this annual report, these changes could substantially reduce the amount of revenues we receive with respect to various services.
 
 
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During 2010, the FCC released its National Broadband Plan and adopted an order imposing “network neutrality” rules governing Internet services, both of which are discussed in further detail in Item 1 of this annual report.  
 
As discussed further in such item, we cannot predict the ultimate outcome of these actions, but believe that these and other FCC initiatives could have a material impact on our operations and those of other communications companies.
 
Many cable, technology or other communication companies that previously offered a limited range of services are now, like us, offering diversified bundles of services.  As such, a growing number of companies are competing to serve the communications needs of the same customer base.  Several of these companies may be able to provide more comprehensive or less costly service bundles than ours.  Such activities will continue to place downward pressure on the demand for our access lines.

    Recent events affecting us.  During the last few years, most of the states in which we provide telephone services have taken legislative or regulatory steps to further introduce competition into the ILEC business.

    At the state level, we are responding to carrier complaints, legislation or generic investigations regarding our intrastate switched access rate levels in several of our states.  Although outcomes cannot be determined at this time, we believe our intrastate switched access rate levels are appropriate and we vigorously plan to defend them. If we are required to reduce our intrastate switched access rates as a result of any of these initiatives, we will seek to recover displaced switched access revenues from state universal service funds or other services.  However, the amount of such recovery, if any, is not assured.
 
    Over the past few years, each of the FCC, Universal Service Administrative Company (“USAC”) and certain Congressional committees has initiated wide-ranging reviews of the administration of the federal USF.  As part of this process, we, along with a number of other USF recipients, have undergone a number of USF audits and have also received requests for information from the FCC’s Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) and Congressional committees.  In addition, in July 2008 we received a subpoena from the OIG requesting a broad range of information regarding our depreciation rates and methodologies since 2000, and in July 2009 we received a second subpoena requesting information about our participation in the E-rate program for Wisconsin schools and libraries since 2004.  The OIG has not identified to us any specific issues with respect to our participation in the USF program and all USAC audits are finalized with no material issued reported regarding our participation in the USF program.  During 2010, USAC moved from the audit process to a Payment Quality Assessment (“PQA”) program.  We continue to receive and respond to these PQAs and to date no material issues have been identified.  While we believe our participation is in compliance with FCC rules and in accordance with accepted industry practices, we cannot predict with certainty the timing or outcome of these various reviews.
 
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 Excluding our pending acquisition of Qwest, we expect our operating revenues in 2011 to decline from 2010 levels as we continue to experience downward pressure primarily due to continued access line losses, reduced universal service funding and lower network access revenues.   We expect such revenue declines to be partially offset primarily due to increased demand for our high-speed Internet service offering and special access services.

For a more complete description of regulation and competition impacting our operations and various attendant risks, please see Items 1 and 1A of this annual report.
 
    Other matters.   Through June 30, 2009, CenturyLink accounted for its regulated telephone operations (except for the properties acquired from Verizon in 2002) in accordance with the provisions of codification ASC 980-10 (formerly SFAS 71) which addresses regulatory accounting under which actions by regulators can provide reasonable assurance of the recognition of an asset, reduce or eliminate the value of an asset and impose a liability on a regulated enterprise.  On July 1, 2009, we discontinued the accounting requirements of regulatory accounting upon the conversion of substantially all of our rate-of-return study areas to federal price cap regulation (based on the FCC’s approval of our petition to convert our study areas to price cap regulation).

In the third quarter of 2009, we recorded a net non-cash extraordinary after-tax gain of approximately $136.0 million upon the discontinuance of regulatory accounting.  See Note 16 for additional information.
 
    We have certain obligations based on federal, state and local laws relating to the protection of the environment.  Costs of compliance through 2010 have not been material, and we currently do not believe that such costs will become material.
 
 
Item 7A.
Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosure About Market Risk

 
For information pertaining to the our market risk disclosure, see “Item 7 - Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations – Market Risk”.

 
 
 
 
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Item 8.
Financial Statements and Supplementary Data


Report of Management
The Shareholders
CenturyLink, Inc.:
 
    Management has prepared and is responsible for the integrity and objectivity of our consolidated financial statements.  The consolidated financial statements have been prepared in accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America and necessarily include amounts determined using our best judgments and estimates.
 
Our consolidated financial statements have been audited by KPMG LLP, an independent registered public accounting firm, who have expressed their opinion with respect to the fairness of the consolidated financial statements.  Their audit was conducted in accordance with standards of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (United States).
 
Management is responsible for establishing and maintaining adequate internal control over financial reporting, a process designed to provide reasonable assurance regarding the reliability of financial reporting and the preparation of financial statements for external purposes in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles. Under the supervision and with the participation of management, including our principal executive officer and principal financial officer, we conducted an evaluation of the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting based on the framework in Internal Control – Integrated Framework issued by the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (“COSO”). Based on our evaluation under the framework of COSO, management concluded that our internal control over financial reporting was effective as of December 31, 2010.  The effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2010 has been audited by KPMG LLP, as stated in their report which is included herein.
 
Because of its inherent limitations, internal control over financial reporting may not prevent or detect misstatements.  Also, projections of any evaluation of effectiveness to future periods are subject to the risk that controls may become inadequate because of changes in conditions, or that the degree of compliance with the policies or procedures may deteriorate.
 
The Audit Committee of the Board of Directors is composed of independent directors who are not officers or employees.  The Committee meets periodically with the external auditors, internal auditors and management.  The Committee considers the independence of the external auditors and the audit scope and discusses internal control, financial and reporting matters.  Both the external and internal auditors have free access to the Committee.


/s/  R. Stewart Ewing, Jr.
R. Stewart Ewing, Jr.
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
March 1, 2011
 
 
                                                                                            
 
 
 
80
 
                                                                                                                    
                                                          
Report of Independent Registered Public Accounting Firm



The Board of Directors and Stockholders
CenturyLink, Inc.:

We have audited the accompanying consolidated balance sheets of CenturyLink, Inc. and subsidiaries (the Company) as of December 31, 2010 and 2009, and the related consolidated statements of income, comprehensive income, cash flows, and stockholders’ equity for each of the years in the three-year period ended December 31, 2010. In connection with our audits of the consolidated financial statements, we also have audited the financial statement schedule as listed in Item 15a(2). These consolidated financial statements and financial statement schedule are the responsibility of the Company’s management. Our responsibility is to express an opinion on these consolidated financial statements and financial statement schedule based on our audits.
 
We conducted our audits in accordance with the standards of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (United States). Those standards require that we plan and perform the audits to obtain reasonable assurance about whether the financial statements are free of material misstatement. An audit includes examining, on a test basis, evidence supporting the amounts and disclosures in the financial statements. An audit also includes assessing the accounting principles used and significant estimates made by management, as well as evaluating the overall financial statement presentation. We believe that our audits provide a reasonable basis for our opinion.
 
In our opinion, the consolidated financial statements referred to above present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of the Company as of December 31, 2010 and 2009, and the results of their operations and their cash flows for each of the years in the three-year period ended December 31, 2010, in conformity with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles. Also in our opinion, the related financial statement schedule, when considered in relation to the basic consolidated financial statements taken as a whole, presents fairly, in all material respects, the information set forth therein.
 
We also have audited, in accordance with the standards of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (United States), the Company’s internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2010, based on criteria established in Internal Control—Integrated Framework issued by the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission, and our report dated March 1, 2011 expressed an unqualified opinion on the effectiveness of the Company’s internal control over financial reporting.
 

/s/ KPMG LLP
KPMG LLP
Shreveport, Louisiana
March 1, 2011
 
 
 
 
 
81
 
 
 
Report of Independent Registered Public Accounting Firm

 
The Board of Directors and Stockholders
CenturyLink, Inc.:
 
We have audited CenturyLink, Inc. and subsidiaries’ (the Company) internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2010, based on criteria established in Internal Control—Integrated Framework issued by the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO). The Company’s management is responsible for maintaining effective internal control over financial reporting and for its assessment of the effectiveness of internal control over financial reporting, included in the accompanying Report of Management. Our responsibility is to express an opinion on the Company’s internal control over financial reporting based on our audit.
 
We conducted our audit in accordance with the standards of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (United States). Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain reasonable assurance about whether effective internal control over financial reporting was maintained in all material respects. Our audit included obtaining an understanding of internal control over financial reporting, assessing the risk that a material weakness exists, and testing and evaluating the design and operating effectiveness of internal control based on the assessed risk. Our audit also included performing such other procedures as we considered necessary in the circumstances. We believe that our audit provides a reasonable basis for our opinion.
 
A company’s internal control over financial reporting is a process designed to provide reasonable assurance regarding the reliability of financial reporting and the preparation of financial statements for external purposes in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles. A company’s internal control over financial reporting includes those policies and procedures that (1) pertain to the maintenance of records that, in reasonable detail, accurately and fairly reflect the transactions and dispositions of the assets of the company; (2) provide reasonable assurance that transactions are recorded as necessary to permit preparation of financial statements in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles, and that receipts and expenditures of the company are being made only in accordance with authorizations of management and directors of the company; and (3) provide reasonable assurance regarding prevention or timely detection of unauthorized acquisition, use, or disposition of the company’s assets that could have a material effect on the financial statements.
 
Because of its inherent limitations, internal control over financial reporting may not prevent or detect misstatements. Also, projections of any evaluation of effectiveness to future periods are subject to the risk that controls may become inadequate because of changes in conditions, or that the degree of compliance with the policies or procedures may deteriorate.
 
In our opinion, the Company maintained, in all material respects, effective internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2010, based on criteria established in Internal Control—Integrated Framework issued by the COSO.
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We also have audited, in accordance with the standards of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (United States), the consolidated balance sheets of CenturyLink, Inc. and subsidiaries as of December 31, 2010 and 2009, and the related consolidated statements of income, comprehensive income, cash flows, and stockholders’ equity for each of the years in the three-year period ended December 31, 2010 and our report dated March 1, 2011 expressed an unqualified opinion on those consolidated financial statements.
 
 
/s/ KPMG LLP
 
KPMG LLP
Shreveport, Louisiana
March 1, 2011
 
 
 
 
 
83 
 
 

 
CENTURYLINK, INC.
Consolidated Statements of Income
 
   
Year ended December 31,
 
   
2010
   
2009
   
2008
 
   
(Dollars, except per share amounts, and shares in thousands)
 
                   
OPERATING REVENUES
  $ 7,041,534       4,974,239       2,599,747  
                         
OPERATING EXPENSES
                       
         Cost of services and products (exclusive of depreciation and amortization)
    2,410,048       1,752,087       955,473  
         Selling, general and administrative
    1,137,989       1,014,341       399,136  
         Depreciation and amortization
    1,433,553       974,710       523,786  
                 Total operating expenses
    4,981,590       3,741,138       1,878,395  
                         
OPERATING INCOME
    2,059,944       1,233,101       721,352  
                         
OTHER INCOME (EXPENSE)
                       
         Interest expense
    (557,478 )     (370,414 )     (202,217 )
         Other income (expense)
    29,619       (48,175 )     42,252  
                 Total other income (expense)
    (527,859 )     (418,589 )     (159,965 )
                         
INCOME BEFORE INCOME TAX EXPENSE
    1,532,085       814,512       561,387  
Income tax expense
    582,951       301,881       194,357  
                         
INCOME BEFORE NONCONTROLLING INTERESTS AND EXTRAORDINARY ITEM
    949,134       512,631       367,030  
Noncontrolling interests
    (1,429 )     (1,377 )     (1,298 )
NET INCOME BEFORE EXTRAORDINARY ITEM
    947,705       511,254       365,732  
Extraordinary item, net of income tax expense and noncontrolling interests (see Note 16)
    -       135,957       -  
NET INCOME ATTRIBUTABLE TO CENTURYLINK, INC.
  $ 947,705       647,211       365,732  
                         
BASIC EARNINGS PER SHARE
                       
   Before extraordinary item
  $ 3.13       2.55       3.53  
   Extraordinary item
  $ -       .68       -  
   Basic earnings per share
  $ 3.13       3.23       3.53  
                         
DILUTED EARNINGS PER SHARE
                       
   Before extraordinary item
  $ 3.13       2.55       3.52  
   Extraordinary item
  $ -       .68       -  
   Diluted earnings per share
  $ 3.13       3.23       3.52  
                         
DIVIDENDS PER COMMON SHARE
  $ 2.90       2.80       2.1675  
AVERAGE BASIC SHARES OUTSTANDING
    300,619       198,813       102,268  
AVERAGE DILUTED SHARES OUTSTANDING
    301,297       199,057       102,560