It's time to wrap up last week's polls with a look at who Telecom Ramblings' readers think is going to be buying US network assets this year. Or at least which network operators are likely to be buying. We know the biggest buyers currently have infrastructure funds involved somehow, whether directly or indirectly. But this is more about which existing platforms out there will get bigger, as it's much harder to keep track of potential new financial entrants. That being said, what network operators topped the list this year?
Crown Castle was the clear leader this year, even after a year in which they made no moves. Perhaps now they have finished digesting the many assets they have picked up around the US and might start filling the gaps in their coverage. I agree there's some potential there, they certainly have the resources. But do they have an appetite again?
Perennial M&A specialist Zayo is the second favorite this year. After being purchased themselves by EQT and Digital Colony while retrenching operationally in 2020, I do think that Zayo will get back in the saddle this year and buy something. That being said, I'm thinking it may be in Europe or Canada rather than the US.
Third is CenturyLink, which would certainly be interesting. Since the Level 3 transaction, the combined company has seemed far less interested in consolidation than in figuring out their own approach to the market. I don't expect they would be willing to outbid the financial guys in the US marketplace, but in Europe I could make a better case.
Fourth is the regional operator FirstLight Fiber, which has to be running out of targets in the northeast by now. I have speculated that the financial guys might find a way to combine FirstLight with adjacent operators like Segra/Lumos or Everstream though, and would actually put them higher on this list. They'll definitely be looking.
Fifth is, interestingly, Comcast. I'm not sure what the thought is here, whether it would be cable network assets, or something more on the fiber side, or something more content-related? They aren't on my radar, but I'd certainly be interested to see them make a move.
The next two, Segra and Everstream, I put in a similar category to FirstLight Fiber. They have room to grow geographically and are backed by infrastructure funds that certainly might want to expand their investments.
Then we have Google, Amazon, and Facebook, each of whom seem to prefer a more organic route that doesn't bring any legacy infrastructure baggage along with it. But on the other hand, the list does get seem to get thinner as we get lower so why not.
There are a couple down there that get less press, but which I would put higher on the list though. Hargray seems like they are just getting started in the southeast, ExteNet might be ready for some more infrastructure too, and it seems as if the Wave/RCN/Grande story might have another chapter yet.
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