FirstLight gets sold to Antin Infrastructure Partners

FirstLight is being purchased by Antin Infrastructure Partners from its current owner Oak Hill Capital Partners following a short two years of aggressive growth of its Northeast U.S. fiber network.

Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

After the acquisition meets customary closing conditions, including required regulatory approvals, Antin expects the sale to close in the second half of 2018. The agreement has been approved by FirstLight’s Board of Directors and Antin’s Investment Committee.

RELATED: Oak Hill Capital acquires Oxford Networks, combines operations with FirstLight Fiber

Over the past two years, FirstLight has gone through a transformation.

During its time being owned by Oak Hill Capital, FirstLight has quadrupled in size, enhanced its service portfolio and expanded its fiber network via a mix of its own network buildings and by purchasing Oxford Networks, Sovernet Communications, Finger Lakes Technologies Group and 186 Communications.

In January, FirstLight completed the rebranding of Finger Lakes Technologies Group (FLTG) and 186 Communications under the FirstLight moniker. By completing its acquisition of FLTG, FirstLight now operates about 14,000 route miles of fiber connecting nearly 8,000 locations and 12 data centers in six states.

Kurt Van Wagenen, president and CEO of FirstLight, told FierceTelecom that the company grew faster than it initially thought.

First Light Fiber
Kurt Van Wagenen

“We had this game plan when we started out with Oak Hill and we just executed so much faster than anyone would have expected,” Van Wagenen said. “We went through the sale process, and there was a lot of interest in the asset due to all of the consolidation going on in the industry.”

Antin comes to the table with plenty of telecom experience. While this is the first investment in the United States, the VC firm also owns Eurofiber, an open access fiber provider.

This journey began back in July 2016, when Oak Hill Capital acquired FirstLight and Oxford Networks—a fiber-based provider serving Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts—from Novacap and Bank Street Capital Partners.

Van Wagenen said that the company with support from Antin will continue to look for new targets to expand its network holdings.

“We’re excited to have owners like Oak Hill who are supportive in our growth strategy,” Van Wagenen said. “Our first job is to take advantage of the fiber assets we purchased in the Northeast to demonstrate great organic growth, but with Antin we’ll look to grow strategically as the opportunities present themselves.”

But Van Wagenen said that besides the new ownership, the day-to-day operations won’t change—a message that he will be putting forth when he talks to the rest of his employees and customers this week.

“It’s business as usual and I don’t expect any material changes here other than a change in ownership,” Van Wagenen said. “I just expect a change in ownership and a continued focus on supporting us to grow this business organically through strategic acquisitions as they present themselves.”

Venture Capitalists have been taking more interest in the fiber industry lately. Besides FirstLight being sold to Antin, TPG Capital purchased not only RCN and Grande, but more recently WaveDivision Holdings LLC, the parent of Kirkland, Washington-based cable operator Wave Broadband for $2.36 billion. 

Likewise, Lumos Networks was bought out by EQT Infrastructure for $950 million in November, a deal that ended its fiber network spinout plans with an eye toward expanding its existing fiber business.