Ziply CEO says greenfield builds could push its fiber expansion 20% further

Ziply Fiber is sizing up opportunities for new greenfield fiber rollouts across its four-state territory in the Northwestern U.S. as it continues efforts to upgrade its existing copper footprint to XGS-PON. CEO Harold Zeitz told Fierce these new builds could help the company reach 20% more locations with fiber than originally planned.

The company previously detailed a roadmap to push fiber to 80%, or around 1.36 million, of the 1.7 million passings it acquired from Frontier Communications in 2020. Given only 30%, or around 500,000, of those were covered by fiber when the deal was struck, that put Ziply’s deployment target somewhere in the range of 800,000 to 900,000 locations.

To date, the company has started or completed work in 60 markets, and recently announced plans to upgrade 20 copper markets to fiber. The latter include 11 markets in Washington State, seven in Oregon and two in Idaho.

Zeitz said effectively all of its fiber projects thus far have been upgrades to its existing copper network. But he added it’s currently mapping out greenfield edge out opportunities in areas adjacent to its upgrade work.  

“The boundaries that existed many, many years ago for the phone company are no longer natural boundaries, so there’s some obvious things that we would call edge out,” he explained. “We’re still in the planning phases of that but it’s maybe another 20% on top of what we had planned to build, it will increase the opportunity by that. We think there’s more after that but that’s what we’ve kind of scoped.”

Copper retirement

Though Ziply is overbuilding much of its copper footprint with fiber, Zeitz said retirement of its legacy network isn’t a top priority. Instead, he said, it’s focused on rolling out fiber as quickly as possible.

“When you talk with communities, they are very focused on can you come here faster, can we make it easier for you,” he explained. “Nobody’s asking ‘well how come you haven’t removed the copper yet?’”

That said, Ziply is working to shift customers from its copper network to fresh fiber where it’s available. Once fiber is deployed in a community, Zeitz said it can take up to a year for all copper customers to make the transition. The vast majority are motivated to make the switch due to the level of service fiber provides, but the CEO noted Ziply does offer promotional rates to copper customers as another incentive.

Once all customers are off the copper network, Zeitz said it stops selling copper service. But it hasn’t yet decided what to do with its sprawling copper assets once they go dark. He floated salvage opportunities as one possibility to mine value from them, but stressed an explicit decision hasn’t been made.

Ziply previously told Fierce it had not yet begun copper retirement work, though the company filed public notices with the Federal Communications Commission related to the planned decommissioning of wire centers in Newberg, Beaverton and Hillsboro, Ore., and Marysville, Wash.