Consolidated’s CEO thinks it can beat its 1.6M fiber deployment target

A robust pipeline of public-private partnerships could help Consolidated Communications exceed its previously stated goal of deploying fiber to 1.6 million locations by 2025, CEO Bob Udell told Fierce.

To date, Udell said Consolidated has done around 18 partnership deals to build fiber to between 20,000 and 30,000 locations. Construction is underway for an additional 10 partnerships covering another 10,000 to 15,000 locations and much more of the same is on the way, he added.

“We’ve got a bunch of these in queue, in excess of 50,” Udell said. “It’s really an exciting position to be in. These things play an important role in bridging that digital divide and what gives us a true advantage in being able to meet the community’s needs is we’ve been building our fiber network closer and closer to these communities through history. So, it’s like building an addition onto our house versus starting from scratch.”

In December, Udell said the operator was on track to reach a total of 300,000 new locations with fiber in 2021 and 400,000 locations in 2022. He told Fierce that once last year’s numbers are tallied “I think we’ll exceed our planned build for 2021” and the “possibility exists” for it to beat its goal for this year as well thanks in part to public-private partnerships.

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Ultimately, he said between 10% and 15% of its five-year buildout will be public-private partnership oriented.

In addition to public-private partnerships, Udell said Consolidated plans to opportunistically chase state-level grant opportunities stemming from the federal government’s distribution of billions in broadband funding. Though he said it’s difficult to predict how much support it will secure, he said he believes Consolidated will land “proportionally more” than competitors in areas where its network is nearby.

He explained: “If you’re a town manager and you’re working with the state on what your needs are and it’s going to take someone 18 months to build out a network where we can do it in six and have it at a lower cost, where do you want to put your money?”

Multi-gig musings

In terms of how customers are responding to its new fiber products, Udell said roughly 60% of customers are going for a gig.

Other fiber players, including Frontier Communications and Ziply Fiber, have either come out with or plan to rollout multi-gig service tiers. Udell said Consolidated’s network is more than capable of supporting multi-gig service, but he doesn’t yet see a competitive driver for it to launch something like a 2 Gbps plan. However, he added “my hunch is we’ll see that sometime in the next year.”

“We’ll watch others that do 2-gig and see what the interest level is. It’s a good marketing tag. We’ll use it when we think the timing is right,” he concluded.