Bluepeak’s fast and affordable internet service is achieving top service rankings across the company’s footprint as the competitive fiber provider continues to expand into new markets and enhance its network. Telecompetitor spoke with Rich Fish, Bluepeak chief executive officer, about the company’s strategy, which could be thought of as rural consolidation with a local flair.
Fish, who grew up in a small farming and ranching community in Nebraska, has first-hand experience living in markets like those that Bluepeak serves.
“I can come in and speak with a true understanding of what drives local communities and I have unbelievable empathy for what that means. To be honest, it resonates very, very powerfully in these communities,” said Fish.
“It’s an easy thing to provide lip service to, but it’s a lot more difficult to actually effect. That’s because you don’t get to just tell a community that you are local. That status is earned by being present and making those kinds of investments,” he added.
The local approach involves embedding the company into the community by investing in things that are important to the people that live there and by hiring locals to work as Bluepeak technicians and salespeople, he also noted.
Bluepeak has been swiftly and steadily expanding its footprint since its owner, private equity firm GI Partners, acquired competitive cable TV provider Vast Broadband in February 2021. At the time of the acquisition, Vast’s DOCSIS 3.1 network passed 150,000 homes in its anchor markets, Sioux Falls and Rapid City, SD.
GI’s first order of business was to transition the Vast brand to Bluepeak, a name that “reflects the vision of building a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) expansion platform that brings true FTTH-based broadband to less competitive communities,” said Fish.
Bluepeak’s expansion efforts began in late 2021 and, by the end of fiscal 2022, the company had opened 18 new markets in a footprint that today includes Minnesota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, North Dakota and Wyoming, said Fish. By the end of fiscal 2023, Bluepeak will have doubled its operating footprint to 300,000 homes passed. All of the post-acquisition passings have been FTTH, he added.
“Everything we have done subsequent to the acquisition has been fiber. So, we have changed the character of the network,” said Fish. The company is also executing a multiyear strategy to upgrade its legacy cable network to DOCSIS 4.0, he added.
In July, Bluepeak announced that its internet service was ranked number one by Ookla’s Speeedtest Market Index report in 2Q 2023 for fastest internet speeds, most consistent network and lowest latency across several markets in its service area. Also in July, the fiber-first provider chose Alianza’s cloud communications platform to “reinvent itself” with fiber and cloud solutions.
The company offers customers a lot of bandwidth from its brand-new fiber networks. Residential customers can choose from 1G, 2G or 5G connections. Approximately 30 percent of new customers take either 2G or 5G service, said Fish.
“It is so gratifying to talk to these customers because you know they are coming from DSL service and really struggling to now having a 2G symmetrical offering,” he added.
The flagship offering for business and commercial customers is 10G.
Bluepeak is typically the first fiber provider in its new markets, which are fundamentally underserved with respect to both available services and limited competition, said Fish. Bluepeak considers both cost and potential customer penetration when evaluating new markets, he added.
“We are coming into these markets, which are largely served by incumbent HFC providers or ILECs, with a minimum of 1G symmetrical bandwidth and selling that for $50 a month,” said Fish. “Having that first mover advantage allows us to deliver a value proposition that is unbelievably disruptive.”
Funding The Future
Bluepeak seeks out government grants and funding on a limited basis and primarily through an opportunistic lens, said Fish. The company has used some government funding in South Dakota, but the majority of its expansion investments are made with private capital, he added.
“We will look for opportunities to augment, or expand to, adjacent areas from our existing footprint that make sense for us operationally. Those would definitely fall into the realm of broadband funding, depending on which program you are talking about and how far back you want to go, whether it’s ARPA or BEAD, but that’s not the Bluepeak model,” said Fish.
Meanwhile, Bluepeak’s growth continues, said Fish. Last year, in fiscal 2022, the company built approximately 70,000 new passings across its footprint. Bluepeak is on track to exceed that pace by the end of fiscal 2023 and plans to grow at that same cadence next year, he added.