Ziply buys Ptera as fiber expansion rolls, mulls FWA strategy

Ziply Fiber scooped up a third local ISP, buying Washington State-based Ptera for an undisclosed sum. Ziply CEO Harold Zeitz told Fierce the deal will not only help fill in a gap in its fiber map, but will also give it fixed wireless access expertise which may come in handy down the line.

Ptera provides a combination of fiber and fixed wireless access service in Eastern Washington State and a small portion of western Idaho. Its fiber coverage is primarily concentrated in Cheney, Washington, though its website states it is also planning to roll out fiber in nearby Medical Lake. Additionally, Zeitz said it is looking to cover several other communities in the area with fiber but declined to name them.

Ziply noted in a press release Ptera currently has more than 4,000 customers. Zeitz added Ziply will be taking on around two dozen Ptera employees as part of the transaction.

The deal is Ziply’s fourth in total and third in less than a year. Since June 2022, it has also acquired Oregon ISP Eastern Oregon Net, Inc (EONI), Washington-based iFiber, both of which also offer a mix of fiber and fixed wireless. Back in 2020, it bought Wholesail Networks shortly after closing its deal to take over a portion of Frontier Communications’ network in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana.

Reflecting on how it decides where to buy rather than build, Zeitz said “we’re not going to build fiber generally where there is fiber. So, rather than skip those areas that we think fit what we ultimately want as our network, it makes sense ultimately to join forces rather than skip an area or build over fiber.”

Fixed wireless

With the Frontier deal, Ziply took control of primarily copper network assets spanning around 1.6 million passings. A year after closing the transaction, Ziply announced plans to deploy fiber to 80% to 85% of its territory over the course of three years.

Zeitz told Fierce on Friday it now serves fiber to 50% of that footprint – or approximately 800,000 locations – and remains on track to hit its goal. Earlier this week, Ziply told Fierce it expects to announce its 100th fiber market soon.

Back in September, the operator also unveiled plans to tackle additional locations with fiber through a new edge out strategy.

But Zeitz acknowledged it won’t be able to run fiber everywhere due to simple economics. And that’s where the fixed wireless capabilities Ptera, iFiber and EONI bring to the table will come in.

For the 15% to 20% of locations that fall outside its economic threshold for building fiber, Zeitz said it will either use grants to help fund its build or just use fixed wireless. Its recent acquisitions “give us an opportunity to have teams that are experienced with that.”

“There’s definitely a part of the footprint that’s just too expensive to get to but they deserve better internet, so fixed wireless is a good alternative for that cross section of the population,” he said. “We may build fiber where there is fixed wireless [today] but we’ll likely have some fixed wireless and we may extend the fixed wireless. We’re in the process of thinking through how we would do that.”

In terms of grant funding, Zeitz noted Ziply won just over $57 million in Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) support to build fiber to more than 21,000 locations. It has also been working with state and local broadband officials on additional opportunities and plans to participate in the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, he said.