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Telecom company acquires Frontier for $1.3B, plans fiber upgrades in NW Montana

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Posted at 10:26 AM, Mar 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-17 12:26:39-04

MISSOULA — A telecom company plans to close this spring on a $1.35 billion deal to acquire the northwest operations of Frontier Communications and bring high-speed fiber connections to four states, including portions of Montana.

Herold Zeitz, the CEO of Ziply Fiber, said his company signed the deal with Frontier last May and should close this April. All regulatory approvals have been received, he said.

Ziply was formerly known as Northwest Fiber.

“We’re getting close to closing that $1.35 billion deal between our company and Frontier to acquire their northwest operations, which are the four states that Frontier operates,” Zeitz told the Missoula Current. “We’re going to be a very different kind of company than customers are used to dealing with in this space.”

Ziply Fiber’s new northwest operations will include Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, including the towns of Eureka, Troy and Libby. Network customers will see their service improve after the deal closes, starting with a $100 million upgrade to the core network, Zeitz said.

“That’s one of the first things we’re going to do,” he said. “That will improve the service immediately, even if it takes a little while to get the fiber built. The fiber build we’re planning is over a three to four year period.”

Of the 1.6 million residential and business locations within the northwest territory, around 31% are within reach of fiber, and most of those are in Washington and Oregon. Ziply plans to increase that figure to 80% across all four states within the next few years by replacing copper telephone lines to fiber.

Zeitz said both residential and commercial customers covered by the acquisition will benefit from faster service at both ends of the Internet spectrum.

“Fiber is the fastest, most reliable technology out there,” Zeitz said. “With fiber, you get Gig speed or faster going up and and down. As we do more work from home, as kids are on multiple devices, and as you do video conferencing, sending stuff up to the Internet is going become even more relevant.”

Zeitz said Ziply will retain Frontier’s 980 employees – including those based in Libby. It’s also hiring 200 more employees for its primary offices in Washington and Oregon.

As part of the acquisition, the company will assume its new name in Ziply Fiber. It acquired Frontier under the old name of Northwestern Fiber.

“We’re confident customers will respond well, not only to the name, but more importantly to the service we provide and how we do business,” said Zeitz. “We’re acquiring the phone company, and we’re going to build fiber on top of the that copper network and really transform the copper phone network into a fiber data network.”

Ziply’s executive board includes a handful of former telecom heavyweights including Zeitz, who has served as president of Wave Broadband and played a leadership role at AT&T Wireless.

COO Brian Standing oversaw CenturyLink’s former operations across eight Western states, while Chief Technology Officer Bambang Liem held a leadership role at Charter Communications, among others.

Zeitz said the company’s founders were looking for a new telecom opportunity close to home – that being the Pacific Northwest. They’re planning to offer what Zeitz described as “brilliantly fast connections and refreshingly great service.”

“The founders of this company, we’ve done this before,” he said. “We were looking for a new opportunity. We looked across the country at phone companies and we found them in our back yard. It was exciting for us to find this opportunity in our community. Everyone deserves a fast, great internet connection.”