Convention dials Qwest cliffhanger
The telecom giant has given Democrats the biggest cash pledge.
But what it wants in return could prove dicey.
By Chuck Plunkett and Andy Vuong
Saturday, December 2, 2007
The biggest pledged donation for the 2008 Democratic National
Convention is the subject of continuing rocky negotiations as
the result of a crosstown rivalry between two telecommunications
Even before Denver
won the chance to host the convention, officials with the city's
host committee had secured pledges from Qwest and Level 3.
Qwest's pledge of $6 million in cash and services is the largest
For that pledge, Denver-based Qwest wants an exclusive right to
promote itself as the telecommunications, broadband and data
provider for the convention, according to numerous sources who
asked for anonymity because the negotiations are ongoing.
Broomfield's Level 3 isn't competing for
exclusivity, but does want a portion of the contract. Both
companies have invested millions to boost their fiber-optic
networks in their race to win dominance.
Qwest sees an opportunity to promote itself as the provider of
perhaps the most important infrastructure piece of the
media-intensive spectacles. The company has a similar corporate
presence and convention pledge in St. Paul, where the Republicans are staging
their national convention.
But while the strategy makes sense for Qwest, it also makes
sense for Denver's host committee
officials to gather as many donations as possible as they work
to raise the $55 million in cash and services needed to bring
the Democrats to town.
To that end, the host committee gladly accepted a pledge of $1
million in video and data services from
Broomfield's Level 3. Sources familiar
with Qwest's contract negotiations say that offer is
"Like any contract negotiation, there are highs and lows," said
Chuck Ward, president of Qwest
Colorado. Ward did not discuss
competition with Level 3, but addressed the talks with the
Democratic National Convention Committee in Washington. Those discussions are to continue
at a meeting this week in
"We've been very strong supporters for getting the convention,"
Contracts ahead of '04
Qwest expects that at least the cellphone component will
be offered to a separate provider. But sources say the company
is strongly objecting to Level 3's involvement.
Officials at the national convention committee declined an
interview, but spokeswoman Natalie Wyeth said in an e-mail that
talks with communications providers are much further along for
this convention than for the event in 2004 in
Boston. Wyeth said contract talks for
that event didn't begin until the spring before it was held.
David Pasafaro, the president of the
host committee, said his city's experiences taught him that
negotiations need to start earlier and be resolved quickly.
"It's not something that you can just pull off in a couple of
weeks," Pasafaro said.
And the process adds a layer of complexity, said the Boston host committee's executive director,
Julie Burns. Though it is the host committee's responsibility to
find a provider willing to donate the telecommunications piece,
it is the national party's job to hand out the exclusive
Much ado backstage
In Qwest's situation, other unidentified
telecommunications companies also are competing for the prize,
sources said. And while Denver's
host committee — which already has received an undisclosed cash
donation from Qwest — advocates for the
company, it is the national committee that calls the shots.
says it's a tricky situation.
"To me, if they're willing to provide $6 million, they have the
right to ask to be the exclusive provider," she said.
Verizon donated $3 million in cash and services to Boston, Burns said.
New York-based Verizon was the primary communications services
provider to both the Republicans' convention in
New York and Democrats' in
Verizon issued a news release about the services it would render
for those conventions just weeks before they took place. But
Verizon spokesman Kevin Irland said the contract "was probably
executed and signed far in advance of the actual convention."
Chuck Plunkett: 303-954-1333 or