Tom Maguire Brightspeed

Brightspeed’s origin story isn’t typical for the telecom industry – at least not for a company of its size. As the company’s new CEO Tom Maguire explained in an interview with Telecompetitor, it all started when Apollo Global Management approached Maguire’s colleague Bob Mudge with an investment premise that Apollo wanted to test.

That premise, Maguire said, was “If we invested in an under-invested wireline company, could we turn it into a growth company?”

At the same time, Lumen (known then as CenturyLink) was exploring strategic options for its consumer business. Having acquired Level 3, that company had largely shifted its focus to the enterprise and wholesale markets.

Apollo negotiated a deal to buy CenturyLink’s local service business in 20 states. That business appeared to be an excellent place to test Apollo’s investment premise.

Only 2% to 3% of the footprint that Apollo bought from CenturyLink had been upgraded to fiber when the ownership was transferred. Brightspeed’s goal is to get fiber to 50% of its footprint using the $2 billion in funding that Apollo made available to the company for deployments.

Before the deal closed, Apollo asked if Mudge, Maguire or a third colleague Chris Creager had any interest in helping to run the new company.

“We told him ‘You can either take all three of us or none of us,’” Maguire recalled.

The three men had previously worked together at Verizon and even retired at the same time.

As Apollo went through the process to close the deal with CenturyLink, Maguire and his colleagues released quite detailed state-by-state plans for how many lines Brightspeed planned to upgrade to fiber, even before the deal closed.

Brightspeed Footprint
Brightspeed Footprint

“To maximize the number of households, we focused on the cost per premises passed,” said Maguire.

Mudge was the first Brightspeed CEO but became executive chair of the Board of Directors in November. At the time Mudge’s move was announced, the company also announced that Maguire would become the new Brightspeed CEO when Mudge made his move.

One of Maguire’s top three goals as CEO is to improve the reputation that the company inherited.

Both of his other top three goals could help achieve that first goal. One is to focus on empowering people, most of whom were retained after the acquisition closed.

The third is to build fiber. Upgrading the speeds that the company’s broadband infrastructure can support would certainly be one way to improve the company’s reputation.

An Uncommon Network Architecture

As the company deploys fiber, it is using a rather uncommon network architecture that management expects to be more efficient, thereby maximizing the number of locations that can be upgraded.

One aspect of that architecture: “We eliminated fiber distribution hubs,” said Maguire.

In addition, the company began using plug-and-play fiber connections as an alternative to splicing. The company uses these connections not only inside, but also outside. This approach saves installation time and helps the company maintain deployment schedules, even when technicians who are adept at splicing are in short supply.

Brightspeed Build Plan

A considerable portion of Brightspeed’s network uses aerial cabling and as another method of saving costs, the company is continuing to use that infrastructure rather than burying the fiber.

When someone asks if buried fiber would be better, Maguire tells the person, “We could put stuff up in the air, get it knocked down, put it back up in the air, get it knocked down and put it back up in the air and now I’m approaching the cost to bury it.”

Threat or Opportunity?

Brightspeed’s rural builds have been bolstered, in part, by funding that the company has won in several state broadband programs, including in Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina and others.

The company also has more applications pending, Maguire said.

Asked about the upcoming $42.5 billion BEAD rural broadband funding program, Maguire noted an interesting data point: The company may be one of those that have the highest number of existing locations eligible for BEAD.

That’s both a threat and an opportunity. Potentially the company could lose lines if other providers win funding to bring high-speed broadband to eligible Brightspeed locations. On the other hand, Maguire noted that the company could increase its fiber coverage to 75% of its footprint if it were to win all the funding for which it is likely to apply.

Not surprisingly, considering all that’s at stake, Brightspeed was one of the providers that spearheaded efforts to convince NTIA to relax BEAD letter of credit requirements – efforts that ultimately were successful.

Also unsurprisingly, Maguire doesn’t envision Brightspeed deploying service outside its home turf any time soon.

“We have a lot of work to do in our own territory,” he said.

Perhaps it’s too soon to determine the accuracy of Apollo’s theory that boosting fiber deployments can turn a traditional telco into a growth machine. But we should get the answer within the next few years as we watch what happens with Brightspeed.

Join the Conversation

6 thoughts on “New CEO Shares Brightspeed’s Origin Story and How the Company Plans to Invest That $2B in Its Network

  1. I believe Brightspeed recognizes what COVID has exposed in the modern world. Telecommuting is not only feasible, it is the new acceptable way of doing business. With new fiber in place that has the capacity to provide reliable high-speed broadband and video, professionals and management teams across the country have shown that managing remotely from more rural environments works. This opens the door to a tremendous opportunity to leverage new customers that have previously been overlooked by telcoms due to cost per prems to serve those remote areas. These opportunities combined with Brightspeed’s experience building and managing networks combine to create an equitable growth venture with a rewarding financial outlay. In business, timing is everything. This is the right idea, at the right time, and recognized by the right company who has the tools and experience to make it happen.

    1. Interesting, I am one of the former owners of Adamsville Telephone Co. in Adamsville, Tn. that merged with Centurytel in 1982. I would like to speak with you about your plans in Adamsville, and I will offer my help in any way that I can to provide assistance to you. My name is David Dickey, I can be reached at 731-925-0926 or 731-632-4585. By the way, I worked for Centurytel for 30 years after the merger. My farther founded Adamsville Telephone in 1925 and I worked for the family owned company by the time I was 14 years old. I retired at age 73 in 2012. I look forward to hearing from you.

    2. I live in Preble County Ohio. Brightspeed is without a doubt the most worthless example of a company that ever been in this area. Before Brightspeed, at least we could use our landline and had slow but useable internet unless it rained. With Brightspeed, we have no useable land line because of noise on the line and no internet most of the time. When you go online to report trouble the maze is mind-boggling and when you get to a person on a borrowed phone line you cannot understand what they are saying. Thank you Brightspeed, you took a barely acceptable situation and made it worse.

      Phillip Winkler
      #302166810

  2. They are supposedly building out fiber my way, but I cant get an answer from any of their staff. Was interested in a DIA fiber line… they threw me to residential which isnt the right department. Then it was we will get back to you and let you know…. then nothing. Another comcast as far as Im concerned. If they are building out fiber, you think that would be very easy to do while they are already out there. I am skeptical that it will get done… it is rural out here and I can see them just skipping us. Even comcast doesnt run out to certain parts out here, in 2024 there are still people stuck with century link, now brightspeed, DSL. I honestly hope they never come out here because I really wanted to run the fiber myself and start a little company. Hard to compete with all the rules and regs you have to follow… on top of the government giving competitors billions of dollars.

  3. I see you are trying to improve your reputation. My service has been out for 6 days and counting. Your chat Represenitive said someone was working on the problem as we spoke 3 times. On 5/14/24 One said it would be repaired by 5/13/24 5:00 pm. I suggest just being honest with a response.Say we will work to repair but have know idea when that will occur. Also if your rep sets an appointment and needs to cancel let the customer know. That is integrity.
    Sincerely,
    Mike Rogers soon to be a former customer as I expect many others will follow. . Kaufman, Post Oak Bend City, Texas

  4. I worked for United Telephone of Indiana in the 1980s. They morphed into Sprint, who morphed into Earthlink, who morphed into a name I can’t remember, who then changed to CenturyLink, who then became Brightspeed. Through it all in our little northern Indiana county of Whitley we were constantly being promised that we would see fiber optics as the backbone of our digital communications into “the next century”. Well, that came and went. Now, as I became involved in local politics, this new Brightspeed published a major news flash that they were going to install optic fiber in our county starting in early 2023 and would end the year with gigabit internet being available to every subscriber! It is now mid-2024 already and I have heard nothing from them. In the meantime, private fiber companies have cherry-picked the county communities by installing new fiber where there was already fiber installed during the Sprint days. County and city officials not understanding how the telecommunications network operates welcomed it. Meanwhile our rural residents still have no consistent access to high speed internet. I ended up dropping my Brightspeed landline and using T-mobile cellular exclusively for internet and phone. It works great. What a slap in the face our local telco operating company has been.

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