As 2019 winds toward a close, the fate of the proposed Sprint/ T-Mobile merger is still uncertain. But whatever the fate of that deal, 2019 was a big year for telecom/ broadband mergers and acquisitions – and virtually no segment of the industry was exempt from the trend.
Some investment firms are moving into or expanding their telecom/ broadband operator holdings, including WaveDivision Capital, which previously invested in several broadband providers. Wave said earlier this year that it will purchase Frontier’s operations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
Also this year, investment firms EQT Partners and Digital Colony led a deal to acquire competitive fiber provider Zayo, which itself has made numerous acquisitions over the years.
In addition, investment firm Macquarie Infrastructure Partners bought Bluebird Network, which operates a fiber network spanning several midwestern states, as well as the business operations of Uniti Fiber’s Midwest network.
Grain Management was also quite active in M&A, with a few deals in 2019 including deals for Hunter Communications, Summit Broadband, and Ritter Communications.
Rural Network Operators
A considerable amount of this year’s M&A involved Tier 2 and Tier 3 network operators – perhaps because policymakers seem to have awakened to the importance of ensuring that all Americans, including those in rural areas, have broadband available to them. Other drivers may be the relative lack of competition in rural areas, as well as the recognition that future mobile networks will need dense backhaul infrastructure that Tier 2 and Tier 3 carriers are well-positioned to provide.
Telecom/ broadband M&A deals that involved an independent telco as either a buyer or seller this year include:
- TDS bought Continuum
- Bluebird Network, which itself was acquired by investment firm Macquarie Infrastructure Partners, has since announced plans to purchase Illinois Network Alliance, a fiber network owned by several rural competitors in the state.
- Segra, a company formed when EQT bought Spirit Communications and Lumos Networks, plans to purchase independent telco North State.
- Hargray, which started out as a rural telephone provider, announced several acquisitions this year, including Kings Bay Communications, Dark Fiber Systems, and USA Communications’ Alabama network. In addition, the network operator bought three colocation facilities and an IT services firm in Infinity.
- Nex-Tech bought Cordell
- Ritter Communications sold a majority stake in the company to Grain Management
- Great Plains Communications bought Intercarrier Networks
- EPICTOUCH bought CP-TEL
- Novado bought Price County Telephone
- Shentel bought Big Sandy
- Horizon bought an unnamed Indianapolis network
Cable and Competitive Provider Deals
Cable companies and competitive providers, including fixed wireless providers, also saw considerable M&A activity in 2019.
- Vyve Broadband’s purchase of GTCR marked one cable consolidator buying another
- Cable One purchased Fidelity
- Nextlink, a competitive provider that was one of the big winners in the CAF II auction, bought the internet service business of Connecting Point (ConPoint)
- Vast Broadband purchased NTS
- Firstlight bought Maine Fiber Network and ColoSpace
- Everstream bought Arch Fiber Networks
- Metronet acquired Lightspeed
Telecom Supplier and Vendor Deals
A few notable telecom vendor deals occured in 2019 as well, including:
- Ribbon (formerly GenBand) acquired ECI
- NISC acquired Affinegy and Electrical Distribution Design
- NeoNova/NRTC acquired SecurityCoverage
This is certainly not an all inclusive list, as other deals were also announced in 2019. But it does illustrate quite a busy year for M&A in the broadband sector.