Empire Access targets 140,000 new fiber passings in NY, PA

New York-based internet service provider Empire Access has undertaken an ambitious expansion plan in the wake of its recent acquisition by private equity firm Antin Infrastructure Partners, looking to more than double its fiber footprint by the end of next year.

Founded in 1896 in Prattsburgh, N.Y., Empire Access covers portions of upstate New York and northern Pennsylvania with a 10-gig fiber ring that stretches from Syracuse and Rochester in New York down to Troy and Bentley Creek in Pennsylvania. Its more than 1,200 route miles of fiber pass more than 96,000 locations and serve approximately 29,000 customers. It primarily offers asymmetrical 500 Mbps and 1 gig broadband tiers for residential customers, though 10 Mbps DSL is still available in some areas.

In January, the company was majority acquired by Paris-based private equity firm Antin Infrastructure Partners for an undisclosed sum. And with big money now behind it, the operator is looking to add over 60,000 new homes passed in 2023 and 80,000 in 2024, an Empire Access representative told Fierce.

The operator began overbuilding its legacy copper footprint with fiber nine years ago and was slowly expanding its network in the run up to close of the Antin deal. But the pace of project announcements has picked up in the wake of the transaction.

In recent months, the operator has unveiled plans to extend its fiber service into new markets including  Cortland, N.Y. and Carbondale, Scranton and Williamsport, Pa. The representative said it is also expanding within existing markets, including Dansville, Warsaw, Horseheads, Southport, Endicott, Endwell, Painted Post and Elmira.

All told, the representative said it is looking to expand into nine new markets and grow its footprint within another eight or nine existing coverage areas in 2023. In Scranton, its build will be completed in two phases, with an initial tranche of 14,000 homes being completed in September and another 5,000 by November.

Empire Access’ work is primarily being funded by a mix of equity and debt funding, though the representative added it is also party to three different grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Screenshot of competition in Empire Access footprint via FCC

In terms of competition, the operator is up against cable incumbents Charter Communications and Comcast. While the representative expressed confidence Empire Access’ fiber product will win out over cable, it’s worth noting that according to the Federal Communications Commission’s new broadband map (accurate to June 30, 2022) Charter offers scattered fiber service in upstate New York within the area covered by Empire’s fiber ring.

So do Frontier Communications and Verizon. The latter also just inked an $18 million public-private partnership deal to expand its Fios footprint within Onandaga County, which is home to Syracuse. Elsewhere, Greenlight Networks has talked up plans to expand in the Rochester area.