CSP M&A Picks Up Steam

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CSP M&A Picks Up Steam

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  January 16, 2017

The fourth quarter of 2016 was a busy one for service provider M&A.

The quarter saw AT&T (News - Alert) reveal plans to buy Time Warner Inc. in a deal valued at more than $85 billion. CenturyLink moved in on Level 3 Communications in a $34 billion action. Consolidated Communications (News - Alert) is acquiring FairPoint Communications for $1.5 billion. Windstream announced its $1.1 billion merger with EarthLink. Crown Castle snapped up FPL FiberNet. BroadSoft purchased VoIP Logic (News - Alert). And Bershire Partners LLC took a majority interest in Masergy Communications Inc., while private equity firm GTCR netted Inteliquent.

Should the Time Warner deal pass regulatory muster, it will provide AT&T with a broad array of high-value content from the world’s largest film/TV studio, which the network operator could deliver over its various networks and to an array of customer endpoints. That includes content from HBO, including Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley, True Detective, Veep, and much more. Time Warner also owns the Turner TV properties, which includes Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, CNN, TBS, and TNT; rights to March Madness, MLB, and NBA; and digital and over-the-top brands including Bleacher Report,CNN.com, Fandago, and Hulu.

Warner Bros. is also part of the Time Warner family and includes entertainment television (such as Big Bang (News - Alert) Theory), feature films (including the DC Comics and Harry Potter series), home video, and videogame businesses.

“Premium content always wins,” commented AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson. “It has been true on the big screen, the TV screen, and now it’s proving true on the mobile screen. We’ll have the world’s best premium content with the networks to deliver it to every screen. A big customer pain point is paying for content once but not being able to access it on any device, anywhere. Our goal is to solve that.”

AT&T has wireline and wireless networks that deliver data, telephone, and video services in the U.S.; a mobile network in Mexico; and TV assets in Latin America. The company notes that it expects to use its technological experience and vast resources to do analysis in an effort to provide more relevant content to customers and introduce new business models, including ad-supported content.

Meanwhile, CenturyLink has announced plans to acquire Level 3 in what will create the second largest domestic communications provider servicing global enterprise customers. The companies say they have highly complementary businesses with expanded fiber networks and that the deal will provide them with new economies of scale.

But INTERNET TELEPHONY columnist and analyst Peter Radizeski of RAD-INFO Inc. is not a fan of the pairing, or of telecom mergers in general.

“Not a single merger in telecom in the last fifteen years resulted in anything good. Not one,” wrote Radizeski. “The integrations rarely go as planned. These two companies probably have 26 or more separate and different software systems in the BSS/OSS. These will NEVER be integrated. Orders, status and asset availability will be a nightmare.”

As for the Windstream (News - Alert)-EarthLink deal, the goal there is to create a service provider with a broader national reach, a more expansive product portfolio, and better economies of scale.

The newly enlarged company, to retain the Windstream name, will operate a 145,000-fiber-route-mile network. It will offer internet, network connectivity, managed services, SD-WAN, and other services. And it expects to realize more than $125 million in annual operating and capital expense savings within 36 months of the close of the deal and says the merger creates net present value of about $900 million from synergies and tax benefits.

“The combination with EarthLink further advances Windstream’s strategy by creating a stronger, more competitive business to serve our customers while increasing free cash flow and reducing leverage,” said Windstream President and CEO Tony Thomas, who will remain in this role following the close of the deal. “With this transaction, we are combining two highly complementary organizations with closely aligned operating strategies and business unit structures.”

Following the close of the deal, which is expected in the first half of 2017, key EarthLink management members are expected to join the combined company, and three of EarthLink’s existing directors will join the current Windstream board of directors.

Edited by Alicia Young