Ziply Fiber has been busily expanding its fiber infrastructure since it was formed out of WaveDivision Capital’s acquisition of its four-state Pacific Northwest footprint from Frontier Communications in May 2020.
Impact: For the most part, Ziply’s fiber deployments have been all organic, with the company announcing a year ago that it would spend $500 million over several years to extend fiber to at least 80% of its footprint. Much of the expansion has and will be accomplished by upgrading the existing copper networks Ziply acquired from Frontier in smaller cities and towns across Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana where widespread access to high-speed Internet service has lagged.
Ziply came into being with 1.7 million passings acquired from Frontier, but only 30% of those were fiber at the time of the deal. That means Ziply needs to cover anywhere from 800,000 to 900,000 locations to meet its coverage goal, which works out to approximately 1.36 million total locations. In a recent press release, the company said it has announced fiber construction projects in more than 80 cities and towns in just two years, although it’s not clear exactly how many fiber locations that entails.
All of those fiber buildout efforts paid off earlier this year when Ziply became one of the first fiber providers in the country to launch symmetrical multi-gigabit Internet service across a significant portion of its footprint, beating AT&T to the punch with its 2 Gbps and 5 Gbps offerings. At the company’s January multi-gigabit launch, Ziply claimed to offer multi-gigabit service to nearly 170,000 addresses in 60 cities and towns in three of its four states. Then in mid-April, Ziply said it had doubled its multi-gigabit footprint to 364,000 locations in another 30 cities, still in only three of its four states. Ziply’s Montana customers are projected to get access to its multi-gigabit options sometime this summer.
But now Ziply has made another interesting move, embracing growth by acquisition thanks to its recently announced deal to purchase LaGrande, OR-based Eastern Oregon Net, Inc. EONI offers fiber Internet, fixed wireless, and voice services to customers in northeastern Oregon’s Baker, Union, and Wallowa counties. No terms of the deal were released, other than to say it is scheduled to closer later this year once all regulatory approvals have been granted. As of April, Ziply had also started to look into greenfield opportunities to extend its fiber even further and grow its total footprint rather than relying solely on network upgrades to reach its fiber target.
The EONI deal makes clear that Ziply is open to exploring all of its options to get to its coverage goals, with Zeitz commenting that his company’s goal is to get fiber to as many customers as possible as quickly as possible, “whether that’s by building, upgrading, partnering, or acquiring.” It does not seem coincidental that within days of the acquisition announcement, Ziply turned on multi-gigabit service to a combined 1,500 addresses in two of the three counties (Union and Wallowa) where EONI operates. Multi-gigabit coverage across the entire EONI footprint will likely expand significantly once the deal has been finalized and network upgrades completed.
A potentially overlooked part of the deal have to do with EONI’s fixed wireless assets and what Ziply plans to do with them. Zeitz hinted in his comments that those assets could come in handy for Ziply down the road, saying “We also expect that EONI’s expertise in fixed wireless will be beneficial to us as we continue to grow.” While those fixed wireless customers may eventually shift over to fiber, depending on how Ziply’s buildout strategy proceeds, it seems possible that Ziply could also use EONI’s FWA as the jumping off point to deploy service to extend its footprint even further, with particular focus on locations where it might not be economically feasible to deploy fiber.