Corporate partnerships and mergers

Telecompetitor has been doing annual telecom/ broadband M&A roundups for several years. Unlike some other recent years, 2021 had no telecom megamergers such as the one between T-Mobile and Sprint or AT&T and Time Warner – at least, not in the U.S.

In Canada, heavyweights Rogers and Shaw plan to merge.  And there was plenty of M&A on the U.S. side of the border as well.

Telecompetitor didn’t cover every deal on the telecom and broadband front, but we covered a lot of them. Here’s our roundup of last year’s M&A activity, which includes deals that closed in the year as well as deals that were announced but have not yet closed.

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The Big Telecom Guys

Perhaps the biggest telecom/ broadband M&A story of 2021 was Lumen’s decision to sell its local exchange businesses in 20 states to Apollo Management. The deal isn’t expected to close until the second half of 2021 but Apollo already has announced its name for the new company.

A smaller but similar deal involved Consolidated selling its Ohio operations to Hanson Communications.

Another big M&A story was Cincinnati Bell’s sale to Macquarie Infrastructure Partners.

Meanwhile, Verizon has been buying up certain assets of smaller wireless carriers that participated in the Verizon LTE in Rural America program, including Chariton Valley and Triangle Mobile of Montana.

Like Verizon, T-Mobile also seems to want greater control of the assets underling its wireless service, having finalized its acquisition of Shentel’s wireless business per a years-old agreement with Sprint.

And Dish announced two acquisitions aimed at helping the company jumpstart its wireless business, including Gen Mobile and Republic Wireless.

Big Cable

The most acquisitive company on the cable side in recent years has been Altice – and 2021 was no exception. In March, the company announced plans to buy Morris Broadband.

Meanwhile, Cox bought Segra’s commercial enterprise and carrier business.

CableOne also has been quite active on the M&A front, purchasing the remaining part of Hargray that it didn’t already own in 2021.

Meanwhile, WOW! said it would divest operations in several of its markets – with some operations going to Astound Broadband and some to Cogeco’s Atlantic Broadband (now Breezeline) subsidiary.

Private Equity Still a Player

Macquarie’s acquisition of Cincinnati Bell wasn’t the only example of private equity entering into the telecom/broadband arena in 2021.

Zayo was acquired by Digital Colony Partners and the EQT Infrastructure Fund in 2020. The provider’s 2021 Intelligent Fiber Network acquisition is therefore an example of private equity investment in broadband.

Similarly, Great Plains Communication is backed by investment firm Grain Management, making Great Plains’ acquisition of USA Communications another example of private equity investment.

And Horizon Telcom, owned by Canadian investment firm Novacap, announced acquisitions of Infinity Fiber and the broadband operations of Ohio electric cooperative company Consolidated Cooperative.

Other examples of private equity investment in telecom and broadband:

Fixed Wireless Gains Appeal

The past year also saw multiple M&A deals involving fixed wireless – a technology that has advanced considerably in recent years and that could receive a boost from new government rural broadband funding programs.

Perhaps the biggest deal in this area was the one designed to take Starry public via a merger with First Horizon. Starry was one of the largest winning bidders in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction, although the FCC has not yet released the company’s funding.

Other fixed wireless deals of 2021:

  • Nextlink buying three smaller providers
  • Ting acquiring Simply Bits
  • VTX1 buying TISD
  • Cal.net merging with Winters Broadband

Consolidation Continues Among Smaller Providers

A large amount of the M&A activity in 2021 involved one relatively small provider purchasing another. In some cases, one incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC) acquired another, while other deals involved various combinations of competitive carriers, ILECs, cable companies, etc.  

Deals involving smaller providers that we covered in 2021 include:

Moving Forward

Although we’re just over two weeks into 2022, we’ve already seen at least three new deals announced, suggesting that this year will be another big one on the M&A front.

We look forward to covering these deals for you throughout the year.

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