Six crucial tech companies you've never heard of

Behind the headlines, these firms help form the foundation of the IT industry

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CenturyLink

centurylink.jpgSource: Billy Hathorn/Wikipedia
Monroe, Louisiana, now has its own little chunk of Ma Bell's corpse

It's been nearly nearly three decades since the U.S. government broke up AT&T's telecommunications monopoly, and over that time the vast company has slowly been reassembling itself, like bits of liquid metal coming together to reform the T-1000 in Terminator 2. Much of the country's local landline service is now provided by a reconstituted AT&T, while in the heavily populated Northeast that role is filled by Verizon. It can be easy for people outside the country to forget about Qwest, formerly US West, which takes the Rockies as its territory.

But even people who can smugly name all the Baby Bells (remember Nynex? Good times!) may not know that, while the Qwest brand name survives in many markets, it no longer exists as an independent company. In April 2010, it was acquired by CenturyTel, Inc., which was descended from a tiny Louisiana local exchange. Qwest was only the last of a series of telecom companies it had swallowed up over the years; now calling itself CenturyLink, it's the third-largest telecommunications company in the country, providing phone and Internet service to a huge (if not always densely populated) swath of the United States. CenturyLink has over $7 billion in annual revenue, and is still based in Louisiana.

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