M&A Review 2016 – Network Edition

December 26th, 2016 by · 1 Comment

This year’s consolidation activity by network operators in North America was like a bag of potato chips.  If you eat one, you’ve got to eat at least one more.  Well, maybe they weren’t quite as addictive as potato chips, but it definitely seemed like most of the deal makers of the year showed up more than once.

One of the bigger fiber buyers of the year was CS&L, the communications REIT spun off by Windstream the year before.  After remaining quiet in 2015, CS&L kicked off 2016 with the acquisition of PEG Bandwidth and followed it up a quarter later with a deal for Tower Cloud and relaunched it all as Uniti Fiber.  But they also did a followup deal with Windstream, acquiring a selection of tower assets and rights.

For its part, Windstream played on the buyer’s side of the table as well with the purchase of EarthLink.

CenturyLink made a huge splash in October with its planned acquisition of/merger with Level 3 Communications.  This was perhaps the biggest deal of the year, and especially for me because Level 3’s story was the one that got me into this sector in the first place way back in 2001.  But CenturyLink made other deals this year as well, mostly acquiring talent and technology for its managed and cloud services.  In March they bought netAura, boosting the company’s managed security services.  In June they bought ElasticBox for multi-cloud application management.  Of course they also turned around and sold off their data centers to private equity.

Zayo made fewer fiber deals this year than it ever has, partly because it was digesting the Viatel and Allstream deals when the year began.  But Zayo finished big by taking out one of the remaining large regional fiber assets in North America, Electric Lightwave.  The ELI name had just re-emerged from Integra’s past, but will likely fade away again.  Yet Zayo also quietly bought some colo down in Texas with the acquisition of ClearView as well as some out in Silicon Valley with the acquisition of 4101 Lafayette.

Another of 2016’s repeat consolidators was the, errrr, aptly-named Consolidated Communications.  Consolidated made a big move in December with an agreement to buy Fairpoint, taking it into the upper Northeast for the first time.  Fairpoint of course acquired that footprint from Verizon a few years ago and didn’t  do so well with it.  But they’ve been climbing back ever since.  But that wasn’t the only move Consolidated made this year.  Back in February they acquired Champaign Telephone Company, boosting their footprint out in Illinois further.

One of the year’s biggest deals wasn’t even for a network operator, as Verizon took another swing at content with the planned acquisition of Yahoo.  That’s in a bit of doubt now with the ongoing hacking revelations, but it’s still on so far.  But it’s so long ago that many forget that Verizon is still in the process of buying XO Communications.  And they also showed up with IoT deals for Sensity and Fleetmatics.

Crown Castle continued to make its presence felt with two deals this year.  First they made a small deal for some fiber up in Boston with the acquisition of Last Mile Networks.  Then more recently they took out the biggest pile of independent fiber in Florida, FPL Fibernet, which also had a fair amount out in Texas.

GTT made some big waves out in the Atlantic with its plans to acquire Hibernia Networks.  But they also made a smaller move earlier in the year, acquiring Telnes Broadband and appear to have bought Yipes from Reliance and Global Cloud Xchange as well..

In the Pacific Northwest, WAVE made deals for both CoastCom and SawNet.   And they are rumored to be buying Cascade Networks as well.

Private equity buyers of course made their mark, and none made a bigger one than Oak Hill.  Oak Hill decided to run the table up in the far northeast with the acquisition of FirstLight Fiber, then Oxford Networks, and finally Sovernet.  When they finish combining all that under the FirstLight banner, they’ll have deep metro and regional network from Lake Erie to the Maine coastline.

Also with private equity backing, Everstream emerged as a new consolidator out in the  Midwest with the acquisitions of Great Lakes Comnet and Lynx Network Group.  I have a feeling we’ll be hearing more from them in 2017.

Meanwhile, TPG Capital also bought two fiber networks, acquiring both RCN and Grande from ABRY Partners.

AT&T made just the one big move this year and it wasn’t for network assets, but it was a big one anyway – the acquisition of Time Warner.

The rest weren’t repeat offenders, but interesting nonetheless.  Lumos Networks found an entry into the North Carolina market with the acquisition of Clarity.  Birch had a relatively quiet year in the US, but managed to invade Canada with the acquisition of Primus.  Cox took a majority stake in UPN out in the Midwest.  Further north, the Canadian cable outfit Videotron also bought some metro fiber with the acquisition of Fibrenoire.  And Cleareon gave its NYC metro dreams a boost with the acquisition of Pangaea Networks out of bankruptcy court, instantly becoming a lit operator as well as dark fiber provider.  TelePacific made a new move with the acquisition of DSCI.  And TDS acquired InterLinx Communications out in southern Utah.

I’m sure there are others I’m missing, feel free to say so in the comments below.

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Categories: ILECs, PTTs · Internet Backbones · Mergers and Acquisitions · Metro fiber

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