CenturyLink (CTL) Q3 2020 Earnings Call Transcript

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CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL)
Q3 2020 Earnings Call
Nov 04, 2020, 5:00 p.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Greetings, and welcome to Lumen Technologies third-quarter 2020 earnings conference call. [Operator instructions] As a reminder, this conference is being recorded, Wednesday, November 4, 2020. It is now my pleasure to turn the conference over to Valerie Finberg, vice president, investor relations. Please go ahead, Valerie.

Valerie FinbergVice President, Investor Relations

Thank you, France. Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining us for the Lumen Technologies third-quarter 2020 earnings call. Joining me on the call today are Jeff Storey, president and chief executive officer; and Neel Dev, executive vice president and chief financial officer. Before we begin, I need to call your attention to our safe harbor statement on Slide 2 of our 3Q ’20 presentation, which notes that this conference call may include forward-looking statements subject to certain risks and uncertainties.

All forward-looking statements should be considered in conjunction with the cautionary statements on Slide 2 and in the risk factors in our SEC filings. During today’s call, we will be referring to certain non-GAAP financial measures, which are reconciled to the most comparable GAAP measures and can be found in our earnings press release. In addition, certain metrics discussed today exclude transformation costs and other special items as detailed in our earnings materials, all of which can be found on the Investor Relations section of the Lumen website. Finally, I want to remind everyone that the FCC’s quiet period rules are in effect for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Auction 904, which began last week.

Therefore, any comments we make around RDOF will be very limited. With that, I’ll turn the call over to Jeff.

Jeff StoreyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Valerie, and thank you to everyone joining us today for our first earnings call as Lumen. On today’s call, I’ll take a few minutes to touch on the third quarter highlights and then go into the launch of Lumen and the opportunities we see ahead. After that, Neel will review our third-quarter financial results, and then we will open up the call for your questions. We delivered another solid quarter, improving our year-over-year revenue performance and delivering sequential EBITDA as we continue to transform our business.

Customers rely on Lumen to enable their digital transformation, and we’re seeing that in our sales trends. Following a strong second quarter, sales for IGAM and Enterprise segments were good, and sales for SMB customers were in line with our expectations. We’re encouraged by the steady demand we see, but expect sales cycles will continue to be affected by the uncertain environment particularly for SMB customers. We delivered another strong quarter for consumer broadband revenue with both year over year and sequential revenue growth and recorded our 11th consecutive quarter of growth in broadband ARPU.

This quarter, we added 46,000-gigabit subscribers, surpassing the record we set last quarter. Our results confirm our thesis for the Consumer business. We win customers where we invest in fiber, simplify the experience, and use micro-targeting in selecting the areas we serve. We believe our consumer fiber offering is the best in the market, and our customer satisfaction results are showing consumers value dedicated and reliable bandwidth.

As you’ve heard me say many times, our operational improvements lead to highly satisfied customers, more durable revenue and they allow us to reduce the cost of our operations. Our relentless focus in these areas is delivering results you can see in two ways this quarter. First, despite higher seasonal expenses, we delivered sequential adjusted EBITDA growth. Second, we were recently recognized by Newsweek on their 2021 list of Top Customer Service Brands, scoring the highest of all named Internet service providers.

We’ve made a lot of progress and see additional opportunities to improve. Overall, I am pleased with our results this quarter. We are focused on improving top-line revenue and driving EBITDA growth. We also remain committed to the capital allocation strategy summarized on Slide 4 and the leverage targets we set at the beginning of last year.

Our first priority is to invest in the business, driving growth, transforming our customer experience, and improving our operating costs. Our second objective is to reduce leverage, and we further strengthened the balance sheet this quarter through several capital market transactions, continuing to reduce both leverage and interest expense. Finally, we remain committed to returning capital to shareholders through our dividend and are very comfortable with a dividend payout ratio in the 30s, one of the lowest payout ratios compared to our large peers. We believe the balance we achieved through this three-pronged capital allocation has served us well through the COVID pandemic and the uncertainty in the economy, giving us ample liquidity to continue to invest for growth, reduce debt and return capital through our dividend.

Within the company, our mostly work-from-home team continues to excel as a distributed workforce. We have maintained small dedicated teams to drive speed and collaboration on our key product and operational initiatives and continue to use data-oriented technologies to operate at the highest levels in service delivery and service assurance. In fact, we’ve been using this time and our own experience to understand and develop solutions for the fourth Industrial Revolution and a work-from-anywhere mindset. Turning to the launch of Lumen.

A couple years ago, we challenged ourselves to chart a bold vision for what kind of company we wanted to be. During that effort, it became obvious that the company was firmly in a position to successfully help our customers acquire, analyze, and act on their data. Lumen does this through the use of applications securely delivered across a hybrid cloud, from massive data centers all the way to the edge. In that moment, Lumen was born with the goal of delivering the fastest, most secure platform for next-gen applications and data.

In September, we rebranded to Lumen Technologies to introduce this new vision to the market. Lumen is more than just a new name and logo. In a world that is rapidly changing, it signals a new era for our company where we combine an all-digital delivery model, software-defined networking, and one of the very best fiber and network infrastructures into a platform of capabilities designed to drive our customers’ success. Although we’ve been in a rapidly changing industry for the past 30 years, with the advent of the fourth Industrial Revolution, the pace of change is accelerating.

And I believe Lumen is uniquely positioned to enable and benefit from this rapid change. The Lumen platform, grounded on a broad, fiber-based foundation and delivering virtualized network, cloud, security, and voice services, continues to be essential to customers as we see them augment their capabilities to support new work environments and emerging technologies. Lumen’s capabilities lie at the heart of enabling that demand. And as you can see on Slide 5, the Lumen platform is designed to bring together all of our assets, IP, services, and expertise to deliver the world-class experience customers expect from Lumen.

We give our customers access to cloud edge facilities, hosting critical applications within five milliseconds of digital transactions, enabling IoT and other next-gen use cases; software-defined networks that can create new connections around the world in seconds; network-based threat intelligence that protects our customers’ data and proactively stops malicious factors; and massive network infrastructure with long-haul fiber and IP networks, providing connectivity to private data centers, public data centers, cloud service providers, 5G operators and the array of global networks serving end users. As amazing as our capabilities are today, we continue to invest to ensure our platform offers the fastest, most capable, and resilient fiber-based services to support our customers’ application and data needs. This approach enables us to deliver a continually improving platform that will help improve our revenue trajectory and take advantage of the growing addressable markets for these services. I’m also very pleased with the pace at which we are simplifying and digitizing the way businesses purchase and consume their networking, cloud edge, and security solutions from us.

We are driving a digital-first culture that allows our customers to configure, order, and rapidly deploy our services through an all-digital, self-service set of tools. We are certainly known for our fiber infrastructure, but over that infrastructure, we deliver digital services like Lumen Hyper WAN, Lumen Dynamic Connections, Lumen DDoS mitigation, that are completely transforming how we serve our customers, allowing them to consume our platform services in ways that are flexible and easy. Beyond enabling fast, secure connections and simplifying our customer experience, Lumen is also enabling partners to use our platform to deliver best-of-breed capabilities while also speeding our time to market. As an example is our partnership with Zoom.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen an explosion in demand for Internet-based collaboration services. Zoom is a market leader in this space as well as a longtime valued customer of Lumen. We are delighted our platform supports the amazing services they provide. In late September, we announced a new partnership to incorporate Zoom into Lumen’s portfolio of voice and collaboration services and are excited by the early commercial traction we’ve already seen.

Long term, we think we can develop enhanced customer experiences by further integrating Zoom’s technology with the rich capabilities and deep reach of the Lumen platform. The second example is the partnership we announced with VMware, a significant collaboration covering edge compute, networking, and security. Utilizing the VMware SD-WAN by VeloCloud solution and the recently announced VMware secure access service edge platform, we have the ability to integrate VMware services to deliver a work-from-anywhere platform on our global edge infrastructure to create solutions for businesses of all sizes across a variety of industries. As I’ve mentioned, customers need to move processing capabilities from remote data centers or the core of the cloud to the very edge of the network, close to where the data is generated.

Whether providing bare metal as a service or full-blown edge computing resources, the cloud edge and network as service capabilities of the Lumen platform are integrated into a single experience for the customer and deliver low latency connectivity to more than 95% of the U.S. enterprises within five milliseconds. The edge computing market is forecasted to be anywhere from $10 billion to $40 billion over the next several years, and we are very focused on leveraging our widely distributed fiber and edge data facilities to aggressively pursue this opportunity. I’m pleased to say that we’re already making great progress on our cloud edge plans.

We just turned up the first block of cloud edge nodes, and subsequent blocks are well under way. Even before we officially launched the product, a major media company began using our cloud edge platform to deliver live sporting events, and it is providing them exactly the capabilities and performance they hoped. A very different type of enterprise customer already deploying on the Lumen cloud edge is CyberReef. CyberReef provides remote learning solutions for public school systems, and the COVID pandemic is driving tremendous growth for their services.

CyberReef’s Kids Internet Defense Shield required highly distributed compute resources combined with high-capacity network connections and deeply tiered Internet infrastructure, placing their security tools close to the school systems they support. In other words, Lumen’s cloud edge platform and the Lumen network were a perfect fit for this customer and a great example of how high-performance networking combined with distributed compute can deliver next-generation services. Lastly, in the quarter, we turned out our Lumen cloud edge experience center in Denver where customers, partners, and vendors can remotely deploy edge compute technologies on our platform and test them with live networking under real-life conditions. Within a couple of days of the launch of the experience center, a major cloud service provider loaded their cloud extension software to begin testing, and we are working with other partners and customers to begin testing their applications as well.

As a result and in partnership with multiple cloud service providers, software as a service providers, and other key partners, we expect to deliver capabilities like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and distributed analytics for enterprises over the Lumen platform. As you can see on Slide 6, while Lumen is the name of our company and our flagship brand for serving enterprise and wholesale markets, we also launched Quantum Fiber. Quantum Fiber is our brand for serving fiber-based services to small business and consumer customers. And just as with Lumen enterprise customers, we’re offering our Quantum customers a simplified, highly digital customer experience with expanded tools for managing the Quantum platform with mass-market efficiency.

As we continue deploying Quantum Fiber services to the small business segment, we intend to utilize our more than 170,000 on-net, fiber-fed buildings as a starting point, targeting small businesses in tens of thousands of existing buildings. We know that bandwidth is critical for these customers, and our simple, resilient, all-digital Quantum services are well-positioned to meet those needs. While Lumen’s primary focus is enterprise, we have a dedicated leadership team whose sole focus is to leverage our Quantum investments to grow the consumer and small business markets. Finally, the CenturyLink brand will remain in place for our consumer and small business customers who receive traditional services over traditional hybrid fiber copper networks.

As a quick recap, Lumen is more than just a new name. We are more excited than ever about the opportunity in front of us and the work we’ve done over the past two and a half years to capture that opportunity and to launch Lumen. As our customers embrace the fourth Industrial Revolution, the Lumen platform delivers adaptive, secure, and resilient capabilities over one of the world’s best fiber infrastructures. We are focused on enabling our customers’ success and integrating those capabilities within their own operating environment.

We are very excited about the future. With that, I’ll turn the call over to Neel. Neel?

Neel DevExecutive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Jeff, and good afternoon, everyone. During the third quarter, we continued to execute on our plan and made substantial progress transforming and positioning the company for the future. As Jeff mentioned, we rebranded to Lumen and made a purposeful shift in aggressively going after emerging opportunities with growing addressable markets. We had solid third-quarter results, which highlights the resilience and relevance of the products and services we offer particularly given the current backdrop of economic uncertainty.

I’ll start with our financial summary on Slide 8. Total revenue performance improved compared to the year-ago quarter. We had another quarter of steady progress on our cost transformation savings initiatives. While we incurred higher costs due to seasonally high utility expenses, a global brand launch, and the cost and efficiencies of operating in the current environment, we grew adjusted EBITDA on a sequential basis.

We continue to invest in the business while delivering solid free cash flow. During the quarter, we also made good progress on our deleveraging and refinancing initiatives. Turning to revenue. On a year-over-year basis, total revenue declined 3.4% to $5.167 billion, compared to a decline of 4.8% in the third quarter of 2019.

Sequentially, total revenue declined 0.5%. Moving to Slide 9. In revenue by business segment on a year-over-year basis, International and Global Accounts, or IGAM, revenue declined 3.6% and declined 2.6% on a constant currency basis primarily driven by COVID resurgence and related weakness in our international business. On a sequential basis, IGAM declined 1.6% and 2.4% on a constant currency basis.

We continue to see good demand from a subset of our largest customers whose business models are benefiting from the current environment. However, during the quarter, we saw a reduced level of activity due to COVID in our international business, particularly across Europe and Latin America. Moving to our enterprise segment. On a year-over-year basis, revenue increased by 0.8%.

This compares to a 0.9% increase in the third quarter of 2019. On a sequential basis, Enterprise grew 0.4%. Both sequential and year-over-year performance benefited from strength in our federal business and installs from sales earlier this year. SMB revenue decreased 5.8% year over year primarily driven by continued declines in legacy voice services.

As we have mentioned before, we expect COVID would likely have a disproportionate impact on this segment, and we continue to monitor this closely. In general, while we haven’t seen an increase in churn, as you might expect, we have seen a decrease in sales both year over year and sequentially. Additionally, during the quarter within SMB, we sold our legacy correctional facility communications business. The sale of this business at the end of August impacted revenue by about $5 million in the third quarter and will have a full-quarter impact of about $15 million in the fourth quarter.

Wholesale revenue decreased 6.7% year over year. This compares to an average decline of 7% over the prior four quarters. Sequentially, revenue was flat. As a reminder, in the third quarter of 2019, we did see a benefit from a carrier settlement of approximately $15 million.

In terms of products, this quarter, the trajectory of legacy voice revenue returned to pre-COVID levels. But as expected, customers are meeting that need for higher collaboration by transitioning volume and spend to our other connectivity products and services. In summary, across our business groups, and as we have all seen across the broader economy, the acceleration of the digital economy is impacting every business. While some are able to lean into it and we are seeing good demand from those customers, others are challenged in this environment and delaying buying decisions.

Turning to consumer on Slide 10. For the third-quarter 2020, revenue declined 4.1% year over year compared, to 9.7% in the year-ago quarter. On a sequential basis, revenue declined 0.5% primarily driven by ongoing legacy voice declines offset by growth in broadband. Broadband revenue for the third-quarter 2020 grew 1.7% year over year and 0.6% on a sequential basis.

In the third quarter, in speeds of 100 meg and above, we added 62,000 subs. From a mix perspective, 13% of our total broadband subs now have greater than 100 meg speeds compared to 5% at the beginning of last year. We now have approximately 2.3 million homes passed with fiber, compared to about 2 million at year-end 2019. As we have mentioned before, we expect that future performance will be largely driven by our execution around our fiber to the home investment strategy in driving up penetration of our competitive assets.

Our revenue performance has been driven by this focus on our competitive assets where we can support higher speeds, tend to have higher ARPU, and generally see lower churn. Moreover, our digital customer experience initiatives will not only improve customer interactions but are expected to continue to improve the margin profile of our consumer broadband business. We also remain committed to supporting our customers that are working through the current economic uncertainty or who have participated in the Keep Americans Connected Pledge. As a reminder, those customers have been subtracted from our sub counts and were the primary driver of the change in low-speed sub counts this quarter.

Turning to adjusted EBITDA on Slide 11. For the third-quarter 2020, adjusted EBITDA was $2.190 billion, compared to $2.261 billion in the third-quarter 2019 and $2.174 billion in the second quarter of 2020. Despite a global brand rollout, seasonally higher utility costs, and COVID-related inefficiencies, as a result of our focus on profitable revenues and cost transformation initiatives, we grew adjusted EBITDA sequentially. Specific to bad debt, our expense this quarter was down $10 million sequentially and roughly $15 million higher than pre-COVID levels.

Our DSOs have been relatively stable, and we continue to work closely with our customers on payment arrangements. Given our current experience, we expect our bad debt expense to continue to decrease sequentially to pre-COVID levels. Adjusted EBITDA margin for the quarter was 42.4%, compared to 42.3% in the year-ago quarter. As of the end of the third quarter, we achieved approximately $730 million of annualized run-rate adjusted EBITDA transformation savings, compared to $620 million as of the end of the previous quarter.

Given the challenges related to COVID, we continue to be pleased with the run rate savings we achieved this year. We also remain confident in our three-year transformation plans, and we continue to expect to achieve the $800 million to $1 billion in annualized run-rate adjusted EBITDA savings. Integration and transformation costs and special items incurred in the third quarter of 2020 impacted adjusted EBITDA by $78 million and free cash flow by $111 million. For the third-quarter 2020, capital expenditures were $988 million.

This compares to third-quarter 2019 CAPEX of $957 million. We are investing in the products and services that support the Lumen platform. We also continue to invest in expanding our fiber footprint and our digital customer and employee experience. In the third quarter of 2020, the company generated free cash flow of $917 million.

This compares to free cash flow of $983 million in the third-quarter 2019. Turning to capital markets activity on Slide 12. During the third quarter, we paid down $550 million in debt obligations and refinanced $2 billion of debt at lower rates. We have refinanced $19 billion since we announced the deleveraging plan last year and reduced and extended maturities through 2025 by around $15 billion.

We remain focused on getting to our target leverage ratio of 2.75 to 3.25 times net debt to adjusted EBITDA. As we move to our financial outlook on Slide 13, we continue to see uncertainty as the level of impact and buyer behaviors vary widely across our very diverse customer base. Over the long term, we think the demand dynamics and the acceleration of the digital economy is net positive for our business. However, in the short term, we will likely see customers being cautious as they work through their return-to-work plans.

Despite the overall market uncertainty, we are optimistic about the resilience of our business and for the fourth quarter, we expect sequential growth in adjusted EBITDA from $2.19 billion this quarter. Additionally, given continued progress in our deleveraging initiatives and aided by current market conditions, we are lowering and narrowing our cash interest expense to a range of $1.62 billion to $1.65 billion from our previous range of $1.65 billion to $1.7 billion. Our net cash interest expense this year is expected to be about $500 million lower compared to 2018. To summarize, our results continue to highlight that our business and the products we sell are resilient.

We are delivering strong bottom-line results while we are leaning in and investing to improve our revenue trajectory. Our balance sheet and liquidity position remains strong and are continually improving. We continue to execute on our capital allocation policy we laid out early last year. We are investing to position the company for the future, deleveraging to our target leverage range of 2.75 to 3.25 times and returning over $1 billion to shareholders through the dividend with a payout ratio that we continue to expect to be in the 30s as a percentage of free cash flow.

With that, we’ll open it up for your questions. France, will you please explain the process?

Questions & Answers:

Operator

Thank you. [Operator instructions] And our first question from the line of Brett Feldman with Goldman Sachs. Please go ahead.

Brett FeldmanGoldman Sachs — Analyst

Yes. Thank you for taking the question. Just to follow up on the EBITDA guidance that you gave for the fourth quarter, the outlook for sequential improvement. I’m wondering if you can maybe just give us a little more insight as to what you expect to drive that.

I’m not sure if that’s predominantly seasonal or if there are other factors involved. And you had also highlighted that the year-over-year change in EBITDA and revenue, I believe, has improved this quarter. Are you expecting a similar dynamic on a year-over-year basis to play out in the fourth quarter? And if so, what’s behind that? Thank you.

Neel DevExecutive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Sure, Brett. So in terms of fourth quarter, obviously, we’ve had a good quarter for our cost transformation savings. And so we expect that to continue going into fourth quarter, and offsetting some of that savings are some of the investments that we’re making. So we are making — you’ve seen us spend a little bit more on capital.

We have, similarly, investment in the brand and investment in our products and services, a lot of which Jeff touched on in his remarks. Utilities will come down, which is seasonal. We expect bad debt to continue to come down. And the remainder will be driven by our performance on revenue.

So at a high level, that’s kind of the primary drivers from a sequential EBITDA performance standpoint. From year over year, we did see good improvement in revenue, like I mentioned, 3.4% versus the 4.8%. We have a good funnel, and we feel good about the quarter. But the only thing that we’re a little cautious about is some of the resurgence we’re seeing and how that impacts customer activity.

Brett FeldmanGoldman Sachs — Analyst

If you don’t mind if I just ask one quick follow-up question on that as you referenced the funnel. I believe last quarter in Enterprise, you had called out very strong bookings. I think there was a year-on-year improvement from what had been a very strong second quarter in 2019. How much of that ended up actually converting into the revenue run rate that we saw for Enterprise in the third quarter? Is it all there, or could there still be a little benefit that would flow into the fourth quarter?

Neel DevExecutive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

A significant part of that was already installed in the third quarter, so you can see that benefit in the enterprise line item.

Brett FeldmanGoldman Sachs — Analyst

Thanks for taking the questions.

Neel DevExecutive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question is from the line of Simon Flannery with Morgan Stanley. You may proceed.

Simon FlanneryMorgan Stanley — Analyst

Thank you very much. Good evening. Neel, on the transformation, I think you said you had good progress, 730. You’re close to the low end of the range at 800 at this point as you go on the billion.

Perhaps you could just update us on what you think the potential is over the next year or so to get maybe to the higher end or even above the higher end. And I know COVID had limited some of your ability. It sounds like you’re back on track. But any color around there? And just one clarification on the broadband.

You were talking about the Keep America Connected impact. Could you just size that for us? How much of the impact was from that? Thanks.

Neel DevExecutive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Sure. So on the cost savings, Simon, I think like we mentioned, we’re very comfortable with the 800 million to a billion. We’ll certainly get there. But it’s not going to be an ongoing effort for us.

So all the areas that we’re going after and how we’re changing the customer experience and the employee experience, that will be a several-year effort. Similarly, on rightsizing the infrastructure as we see declines in legacy revenues, that’s also going to be a several-year effort. So we don’t really see any limitations in terms of the savings that we can achieve over the next handful of years. In terms of your question on Keep Americans Connected, what we’re doing is really for the non-pay customers, we’re working closely with them.

We’re reserving the revenue, and you don’t see it in our units either. So incrementally, it impacted our units by about 35,000 units.

Simon FlanneryMorgan Stanley — Analyst

OK. Great. And just one clarification on the Lumen new business divisions. Are you going to give us some color around what the Quantum kind of financials are, how the different businesses split out along that kind of those silos?

Neel DevExecutive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yes. We’ll have more to say about that when we report fourth quarter. But certainly, we’re thinking through what’s the best way to give you visibility to where we’re seeing traction.

Simon FlanneryMorgan Stanley — Analyst

Great. Thank you.

Operator

Our next question is from the line of Eric Luebchow with Wells Fargo. Please go ahead.

Eric LuebchowWells Fargo Securities — Analyst

Great. Thanks for taking the questions. So I was curious about the Zoom partnership that you mentioned and that was announced in late September. How much should we expect that to positively impact your voice and collaboration revenue line item? And then also, should we see an incremental benefit as well in your network transport business?

Neel DevExecutive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

So it’s still early days. But if you think about the Zoom partnership, we view it as a synergistic partnership where the capabilities that we bring to bear really enhances the experience, and it also helps us have an app that we can utilize to really address what our customers want from a voice and video capability. So over the long term, it will help us have an alternative for our voice and collaboration brand. We hope to use that to mitigate some of the churn in that business.

Also, keep in mind, when customers use Zoom or Microsoft Teams, or any other voice app, there is a corresponding demand on the underlying network infrastructure. And with our broad set of products and services, we usually lean into those upgrades as well. So there are several benefits.

Jeff StoreyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. And I’ll just add, if you think about our approach to partnering and our approach to the platform, it’s an important capability for us to have on the Lumen platform. And so we’re working with them. But it’s not something that we’ve just started over the last couple of months.

Zoom has been a great partner to us. We’ve been a good provider to them, I hope, over the past few years. So we’ve got a very good, deep relationship and think they do an amazing job for their customers. And we’re happy to have the ability to add those capabilities to our platform as we go directly to enterprises with a variety of services.

Eric LuebchowWells Fargo Securities — Analyst

Great. And I just had one more follow-up. You mentioned that Europe and Lat Am had some reduced sales activity in the quarter. So just wondering if you could provide some more color on whether you think that’s a temporary phenomenon and if you see any signs in the next quarter or two that, that will reverse and sales will return to a normal cadence.

Neel DevExecutive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yes. I think it was a little hard to hear the question, but I think it was around the weakness we saw in EMEA and Lat Am. So if you think about it, the COVID-related shutdowns in Latin America, they were about a quarter or so behind North America, and so really impacted third quarter in terms of reduced levels of activity. And for EMEA, there’s the resurgence, halfway through the quarter, if you will.

So we really think that’s really the primary driver, and we’ll see how it goes over the next 10, 20 months. But really, that’s what we see as the primary driver. As things return to normal, we expect things to pick back up.

Jeff StoreyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

And I think that’s a comment certainly that applies to Europe and Lat Am, but really our overall business. There’s near-term uncertainty associated with the economy and with COVID and all of those things. But the fundamental drivers of our business, our customers’ need to acquire, analyze, and act on data, we don’t see that changing. So as we couple the Lumen platform with one of the world’s best fiber infrastructures, we think those capabilities are very relevant going forward, very important to our customers.

And this near-term uncertainty, we’ll get passed.

Eric LuebchowWells Fargo Securities — Analyst

Great. Thank you.

Operator

Our next question from the line of Nick Del Deo with MoffettNathanson. Please go ahead.

Nick Del DeoMoffettNathanson — Analyst

Hi. Thanks for taking my questions. Jeff, Lumen seems to be making it through the recession in better shape than many would have expected when we’re going into it. As we look ahead, how does that influence your view of the likely trajectory of the business and your goal to be an EBITDA growth company?

Jeff StoreyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Well, we’re investing through this. One of the things that we’re very pleased about is, is that as a result of some of the decisions we’ve made over the last couple of years, we’re in a great position to keep investing. So if you look at our cloud edge strategy, we’re deeply investing that. Neel referenced in one of his answers a minute ago that we’re investing in people.

We have hundreds of people dedicated to cloud edge to make sure that we have the right capabilities in place for our customers. So we’re investing through this cycle, looking at how to continue to grow the business. And again, we see the Lumen platform as exactly what our customers are needing to help them usher in the fourth Industrial Revolution, but really deal with the quantity and the amount and the distribution of data. We know that they want the advantages of being able to have compute resources within a few milliseconds of where that data is created, and so our edge compute capabilities.

But we also know that they want to be able to transport that data to any cloud service provider, any software as a service provider. And that’s where our Dynamic Connections, which is essentially a network as a service product, but our Dynamic Connections helps them. And so from a going-forward perspective, we think that the products, the capabilities that we’re layering on top of the great fiber and network infrastructure that we have in place today really position us to grow revenue, and we’ll continue to focus on that.

Nick Del DeoMoffettNathanson — Analyst

OK. And then I also have three quick housekeeping ones for Neel. So first, last quarter, you said the pandemic-related costs are probably in the low tens of millions. Did those decline in this quarter? And what do you expect next quarter? Second, what was the rebranding cost this quarter? And third, looking at enterprise transport and infrastructure, revenue was up about 10% sequentially.

Is that just a function of the install you called out, or is something else going on?

Neel DevExecutive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

So, Nick, I think on the pandemic-related, it’s really a high-level estimate. If you think about it, there’s a lot of inefficiencies of operating in this environment. So I think tens of millions is probably right, low tens of millions. It’s a similar amount on the branding side.

But the important thing to keep in mind is that as you can see with our sequential EBITDA growth, that these are not net incremental. We’re offsetting that with other savings. So similarly, on the branding front, we’re not going to slow down. We’re going to continue to invest in the brand for next several quarters probably at similar levels, but we’ll be offsetting that with savings elsewhere.

So that’s been our approach. In terms of the products, it’s mostly installs. There’s always a little bit of onetimes and settlements in Wholesale and in other — especially in the wholesale segment. So there are some fluctuations driven by that.

Nick Del DeoMoffettNathanson — Analyst

OK. Thanks for that detail.

Operator

Our next question from the line of Phil Cusick from JP Morgan. Please go ahead.

Phil CusickJ.P. Morgan — Analyst

Hi, guys. Thanks. First, Jeff, I think you sounded a bit ominous on SMB in the prepared remarks. Neel said the churn hasn’t picked up.

But can you expand on what you see in payment trends and new activations? And then second of all, to hit a topic we’ve hit a bunch of times in the past, but the fiber build-out in consumer, you talk about micro-targeting. But there’s a difficult history for companies that have cherry-picked parts of their markets getting to their target penetration, and an increasing number of those are post-bankruptcy, pushing fiber much harder and building — planning to build their entire footprint. Why doesn’t this make more sense for Lumen? Thank you.

Jeff StoreyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. First of all, I don’t want any of my comments around SMB to be interpreted as ominous. So if I said something that sounds ominous, I didn’t mean that. Let me tell you what I did mean, which is we’re not seeing massive churn pickup in SMB.

We’re seeing that the infrastructure we provide is absolutely critical to keep them in business and to support their businesses, but we’re not seeing a lot of sales activity either. If you look at our plan to grow Quantum Fiber outside the legacy CenturyLink footprint and brand-new buildings, we’re going to have to wait for some of those customers to get back in the buildings before selling new services to them. So there’s nothing ominous going on, but we do think it creates uncertainty in the near term for them from a sales cycle. And we’re very pleased with the churn level that we’re seeing and our activities to support those businesses.

And we’re being cognizant of the fact that they’re going through a hard time, but nothing more than that. Neel, before I go to the cherry-picking, do you want to add?

Neel DevExecutive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yes. I would just note that if you look at our third quarter year-over-year revenue, it was down 5.8%. And if you look at the average of the prior four quarters, it was roughly about 6%. So you really have to put Jeff’s comments in the context of the turnaround plan that we have for SMB.

So we’re a little disappointed that we’re not making as much traction because of the focus and investments we’ve made on SMB, not so much from a performance standpoint because SMB has been holding up fairly well. And also, on the payment terms question, I think there’s no issue there. We feel good about that.

Jeff StoreyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

And with respect to cherry-picking, I wouldn’t describe what we’re doing as cherry-picking. We’re looking at where we can get the greatest return on our investments and the fastest return on our investments to drive penetration. And so it’s a smart strategy for building out rather than just going out and building out an entire footprint. Let’s look at what makes sense for our business to help us prioritize how to grow and where to grow that investment.

And so I don’t view it as cherry-picking. On the small business side, we have 170,000 buildings that are lit in our footprint. I definitely want to go to every one of those buildings and focus on our business customers in those buildings. And so we’ll take advantage of where our network is strong and where we can make it even stronger to support those types of customers.

And we have plenty of market opportunity to do that. There’s not a limitation right now on us on where to go and build for our Quantum Fiber business, whether it’s consumer or business customers.

Phil CusickJ.P. Morgan — Analyst

Thank you.

Jeff StoreyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Phil.

Operator

Our next question is from the line of David Barden from Bank of America. You may proceed.

David BardenBank of America Merrill Lynch — Analyst

Hey, guys. Thanks so much for taking the questions. I guess the first question I have is related to kind of the voice collaboration in aggregate. I think that last quarter, this was the most surprising category of revenue to be upside.

It seems to have contracted. I wonder if you could kind of give us a sense as to the color of whether this contraction from quarter to quarter from the peak in 2Q is, like, how that is going to evolve or how do you think it will evolve. And then I guess the second question is specifically related to the biggest upside surprise this quarter was in transport and infrastructure and enterprise. I know there were some onetimers.

But could you kind of elaborate a little bit about how that outperformed and what the outlook for that division might be? Thank you.

Neel DevExecutive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

So, David, I think if you — voice and collaboration is not a surprise to us. If you look at our — go back and look at our comments from last quarter, we said that we expect that it wouldn’t last because a lot of the ramp-up in volume was COVID-related as folks started working from home, etc. But the key point is the environment that we’re in needs more collaboration, and that is more traffic. So when folks stare at their traditional voice networks and see a huge spike in volume, they figure out how to support that in different ways, whether that traffic transitions to Microsoft’s Teams or Zoom, etc.

But there is an underlying need to upgrade their network infrastructure, and that’s where we come in with a broad product portfolio. So we’ve been helping. So you’ll see that transition within our portfolio in terms of more connectivity needs that customers need. Now it’s not one for one, but it definitely drives demand for other products and services.

And we would expect that to continue going forward as folks trade off of legacy voice and into other infrastructure products. In terms of transport and infrastructure, there’s — for — given the broad product portfolio that we have, in any given quarter, we’ll see fluctuation in one versus the other. But in general, that set of products are doing very well for us.

David BardenBank of America Merrill Lynch — Analyst

And, Jeff, if I could ask you one kind of follow-up question. I know you went through this process, but there’s been an extraordinary interest in fiber assets, a very healthy level of transaction volume in companies and assets themselves. I know you went through this process in 2019 to try to identify whether there was a way to extract value. Are you open to revisiting that process? And do you think that there’s maybe a renewed opportunity to try to extract value from the company in that way?

Jeff StoreyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

We’re always open to whatever makes sense for our business. I won’t make any comments on a particular piece or not. But yes, we’re open to it. We continue to look at it.

We think we have great assets. We think that we have the ability to invest to grow these assets, whether it’s on the consumer side or on the enterprise side. And so we’re going to continue to do that. If something — if some other structure at some point makes sense, we’ll look at that, too.

David BardenBank of America Merrill Lynch — Analyst

Great. Thank you, guys.

Jeff StoreyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question is from the line of James Ratcliffe with Evercore ISI. You may proceed. Mr. Ratcliffe, your line is open, sir.

You may proceed.

James RatcliffeEvercore ISI — Analyst

Can you hear me?

Operator

Yes. Go ahead, sir.

Neel DevExecutive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yes.

James RatcliffeEvercore ISI — Analyst

Great. Jeff, you talked a good bit about edge and the opportunity there. And I’m interested in your take on what truly is edge compute and edge opportunities and how much of that breaks down to really quasi at the cell site versus neighborhood, city, state, etc., I mean, how you’re looking to position your network against that.

Jeff StoreyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. First of all, from — this is third-party stuff, so you can take it however you take third parties. It’s estimated — it’s a broad range, but it’s estimated to be somewhere between $10 billion and $40 billion worth of opportunity over the coming years. So we think it’s big.

What it means, though, is we’ve centralized computing for a very long time; moved it into the cloud, which centralizes it even more; moved it away from where that data is actually acquired. And what we see from enterprise customers is they need to move that compute resource back closer to where that data is acquired so that they can analyze and act on it faster without having to transport it around and move it around. And so I look at edge and think it gives the benefit of on-premise computing. We’re very close — we can serve 95% of the U.S.

enterprises within five milliseconds of delay. So we’re very close to where that data is actually created and where it needs to be analyzed. So it gives the benefit of on-premise computing with also the benefits of cloud computing because we can move it into a cloud environment. They don’t have to have their own data center.

We can do it virtually. We can do it on physical machines. We can provide their compute resources in a variety of ways. And so if you look at the presentation on Slide 4, we can orchestrate for our customers and help them control their applications and operate their applications very close to where the data is created in a very efficient and effective way.

So that’s what edge really means, and our Lumen platform is focused on that. But our Lumen platform is focused on providing those capabilities, whether it’s in an edge or in the network itself. So if you think about Dynamic Connections, Dynamic Connections is that network as a service capability that I mentioned. If you’re an edge compute customer and you want to redirect your compute resources from one data center to another or one cloud provider to another, you can use that.

If you’re not an edge compute customer but you’re using other capabilities of Lumen, you can use that same capability to control your network in a very seamless, very effective way.

James RatcliffeEvercore ISI — Analyst

Great. Thank you.

Jeff StoreyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Sure.

Operator

Our next question is from the line of Jon Atkin with RBC Capital Markets. You may proceed.

Jon AtkinRBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Thanks very much. So a couple questions on that very last topic. I wondered if you are entertaining or how far along you are in terms of actual product partnerships with AWS Wavelength or AWS Outpost or Azure Stack like some of your other kind of fiber and wireline brethren are. You talked a lot about these things, and I think you had a very good thematic explanation for your approach.

But when it comes to productization, where are you on that road map? Secondly, on the fiber front, there’s been some change in the industry at one of your national fiber peers organizationally. And does that — has that created any sort of opportunity to take advantage of any of the disruption to possibly gain share in the enterprise segment? Those would be my two questions.

Jeff StoreyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. Let me take the first question. Neel, you might want to comment on the second one. From product and partnership, we are continually developing the capabilities of the Lumen platform, making sure that we are bringing best-of-breed partners to the table.

I mentioned Zoom in the prepared remarks, but I also mentioned VMware and VeloCloud and our capabilities that we’re delivering with them. So we will continue to partner with companies that we think bring kind of a dual advantage to Lumen. One, they utilize our services. But secondly, we can drive network capacity and success in the network business from them selling through the Lumen platform.

But then also, we can provide those same capabilities to our customers and productize those capabilities with our customers. I am not ready to announce other partnerships, but that’s a key part of our strategy is to go out and build relationships with companies and partners that are doing these things. And I expect us to be able to offer artificial intelligence and augmented reality and various capabilities on the Lumen platform through partnerships and relationships with other companies.

Neel DevExecutive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Jon, on your fiber question, we didn’t completely hear it, but I think it was around the competitive landscape. We haven’t really seen any change in terms of the competitive landscape for fiber. As you know, we have really good assets there, and we’re doing very well from that standpoint. So was that your question, or do you want to — do you have a follow-up?

Jon AtkinRBC Capital Markets — Analyst

No. That’s — I think that’s fine. I appreciate your perspectives.

Neel DevExecutive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question from the line of Michael Rollins with Citi. Please proceed.

Michael RollinsCiti — Analyst

Thanks. Good afternoon. Two questions, if I could. Just first, a clarification on the consumer broadband business.

Can you roughly segment out the subscription mix, the 4.6 million roughly broadband subs, between the different speed tiers to kind of put into context the different sequential changes that you experienced in the quarter? And then secondly, just looking back at history in the business market. Can you review for us how and when during the last recession were your business revenues meaningfully impacted from that environment and maybe how the current environment could be similar or different to what you saw? I realize it was a long time ago, but that’s probably, I would imagine, one of the frame of references that you may consider as well as you navigate the current environment.

Neel DevExecutive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Sure. So I think your question on consumer broadband, I think what I would say is if I just step back, we’ve been really focused on really improving the quality of the overall revenue base for consumer. And you can see that in our revenue numbers. Our revenue has been growing, and as Jeff mentioned, our ARPU has been growing.

And I mentioned in my prepared remarks that for 100 meg and above, we’re now at 13% of the base is at that speed compared to it was beginning of last year at about 5%. So that part of that business is where we’re investing, and we know that’s a very competitive asset. It’s growing very fast. And we continue to invest in fiber.

If you look at our average ARPU for that entire revenue base, it’s in the mid-50s. And the new sales that we have at 100-plus meg is, at the very least, coming at 30% or higher from a new sales perspective. So we’ll continue to focus on improving ARPU. You layer on top of that the CAF II subs that we have where we see a high penetration as we build and penetrate and you layer on top of that our rural subs where there aren’t a lot of alternatives, overall, the quality of the revenue base keeps improving every quarter.

So we’ll continue to focus on that and continue to focus on improving the revenue trajectory. Not to mention, like I mentioned in my prepared remarks, we’re investing in the customer experience and self-service capability. So the margin profile of that business will also continue to improve. In terms of your question on the last recession, we’ve gone back and looked at it, but the reality is the environment today is very different.

If you think about connectivity and how important that is to businesses, we just don’t think there’s really that many parallels to draw from any prior recession. So we think even in a recessionary environment, connectivity for businesses will continue to be very important.

Jeff StoreyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

And actually, if you look back, I remember sitting on calls with you guys and ladies back then and answering the question that it creates near-term choppiness and near-term uncertainty, but there’s no change in the demand for our products and services. That’s how it worked out last time. That’s how I expect it to work out this time, not because it worked out that way last time, but because we see the same dynamic. We see the same experience from our customers.

Michael RollinsCiti — Analyst

Thanks.

Operator

Our next question from the line of Batya Levi from UBS. Please go ahead.

Batya LeviUBS — Analyst

Great. Thank you. A couple questions. First, a quick one on — cash taxes have remained very low.

Can you remind us when you expect to be a full taxpayer? And a little bit more high level. As you invest to grow and transform the business, can you provide a bit more color on our starting point for the revenue mix? Do you still look at the current mix today as a certain mix coming from legacy products and will continue to decline, but you are investing in new capabilities which is growing substantially? Where are we in terms of that percent mix difference? And also, as you look at your new segments, can you talk a little bit about how the network cost will be allocated between these segments? Do they stand on their own, or do they — will they have a shared infrastructure?

Neel DevExecutive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

So I’ll start with your question, Batya, on the cash taxes. Yes, we don’t expect to be a material taxpayer for the next two to three years. So we have the NOLs there. So yes, that’s the outlook right now.

In terms of revenue mix, the dynamic you described is absolutely right. We will continue to see erosion in legacy products, and that will continue. But what we are doing is given the infrastructure that we have, the fiber and infrastructure that we have, we’re investing in products and services with closed affinity to that infrastructure that leverages that infrastructure, all the things that Jeff described with emerging, growing addressable market opportunities that we hope to gain good traction on that will be a different vector in terms of driving our revenue performance going forward. So that then, in essence, is what we’re focused on.

In terms of the segments, we’ll give that more thought in terms of how we report next year, and we’ll have more to say on our fourth-quarter earnings call.

Batya LeviUBS — Analyst

OK. Thank you.

Neel DevExecutive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thank you.

Jeff StoreyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

France, I think we have time for one more question.

Operator

Very good. Our last question will be from the line of Frank Louthan with Raymond James. Please go ahead.

Frank LouthanRaymond James — Analyst

Great. Thank you. How big can Quantum get in terms of revenue? What’s sort of the TAM there? Is that mostly an ILEC footprint strategy, or is it also out of footprint? If it’s out of footprint, how aggressive will you be in expanding SMB out of territory?

Jeff StoreyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Without getting into specific TAMs, it’s a strategy in footprint and out of footprint, where we have the ability to win and where we have the ability to build infrastructure. So if you think out of footprint for consumer, MDUs are natural for us. We’ve done some work with cities that are outside our footprint to grow networks with them.

And so it will be opportunistic from a consumer basis outside of our legacy LEC footprint and then obviously, inside our legacy LEC footprint. If you look at Quantum from a small business perspective, that’s both. That’s looking in the legacy LEC networks and the customers that we serve there, and it’s looking at all the buildings that we have that are let and could be let to provide services to those customers. So it’s a little bit a mixed bag between the two.

All right.

Frank LouthanRaymond James — Analyst

Great. Thank you.

Jeff StoreyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

All right. Thanks for the last question. And thank you, everyone, for your questions actually. And before we conclude the call today, I’ll summarize with a few thoughts about the future of Lumen.

First of all, we believe the Lumen platform, riding on our deep and extensive fiber infrastructure, positions us really well to help our customers navigate the fourth Industrial Revolution. We are investing in growing addressable markets that we believe will improve our revenue trajectory over time. Our capital allocation strategy continues to strengthen our balance sheet, reduce our interest expense, and is aligned with our guiding principle to grow free cash flow per share. Our strong liquidity position enables us to invest through this cycle.

And through all of this activity, our dividend remains in a very comfortable position with a payout ratio in the 30s. I appreciate everybody joining the call today, and thank you for your interest in Lumen. Operator, that concludes the call.

Operator

[Operator signoff]

Duration: 81 minutes

Call participants:

Valerie FinbergVice President, Investor Relations

Jeff StoreyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Neel DevExecutive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Brett FeldmanGoldman Sachs — Analyst

Simon FlanneryMorgan Stanley — Analyst

Eric LuebchowWells Fargo Securities — Analyst

Nick Del DeoMoffettNathanson — Analyst

Phil CusickJ.P. Morgan — Analyst

David BardenBank of America Merrill Lynch — Analyst

James RatcliffeEvercore ISI — Analyst

Jon AtkinRBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Michael RollinsCiti — Analyst

Batya LeviUBS — Analyst

Frank LouthanRaymond James — Analyst

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