With the ink barely dry on TPG’s sale of its Astound Broadband assets to Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners for $8.1 billion, Jim Holanda, CEO of Patriot Media, the company that will manage the assets for its new private equity owners, said that future growth will be fueled by a mixture of organic opportunities and possibly new deals.
TPG agreed to sell Astound on Nov. 1, for about $3.6 billion in cash and $4.5 billion in assumed debt. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter of next year.
In an interview Monday, Holanda said that Astound will remain focused on several core objectives under its new owners -- growing its residential and commercial customer base, expanding its commercial and residential networks, and accretive mergers and acquisitions when they make sense.
“We’re happy at this size,” Holanda said. “We’re the sixth largest MSO behind Comcast and Charter and Cox and Altice and Mediacom. We’re bigger than other public cable companies like Cable One and WOW. I think we have the scale we’re very comfortable with. But if there are opportunities to grow through mergers and acquisitions or organically, we’re going to continue to pursue those, because they historically have been very accretive for us and have accelerated our growth.”
Astound Broadband has more than one million subscribers and operates under the RCN, Grande Communications, Wave Broadband and EnTouch Communications brands across seven states and Washington, D.C. Holanda has been a part of the company practically from the start. Patriot was formed in 2002 by Holanda and cable Hall of Famer Steve Simmons to buy RCN’s Princeton, N.J. assets (later sold to Comcast), managed RCN and Grande Communications for ABRY Partners beginning in 2010, and continued that role after TPG bought RCN and Grande in 2017. From that base TPG went on to purchase Wave Broadband in 2018 and EnTouch in September.
In an interview, Holanda said that TPG began looking at its options for Astound earlier this year, refinancing its debt in late August to take advantage of lower interest rates. At that time, the private equity firm introduced a portability structure to the debt, which made it easier for a potential buyer to assume its leverage.
“That woke up people to the fact that there was no financing risk in purchasing the business,” Holanda said. “Obviously we have seen lots of infrastructure players now coming into the fiber and residential broadband space.”
Holanda said he didn’t know any of Stonepeak’s partners before the deal, but its reputation in the fiber business has preceded it. Stonepeak’s portfolio includes investments in Cologix, which operates data centers in the U.S. and Canada; fiber distributed network provider ExteNet Systems; and Canadian rural broadband provider Xplornet.
“Clearly there has been a lot of activity on that side and we were hoping we would be able to find an infrastructure provider with a long term view of the business as a logical next partner in our evolution,’ Holanda said. “In the months I've gotten to know Stonepeak, we’ve been very very impressed with them. They have deep conviction in the business, a great deal of knowledge given their prior investments in infrastructure and again have a very strong balance sheet in terms of their ability to allow us to grow across all of these various disciplines.”
While it has been broadband-centric for the past five years, Holanda said Astound still has a strong video presence, dating back to the integration of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu into its offerings back in 2014.
“We also have been seeing the macro trends and shifts in the business, and as content costs continue to skyrocket out of control and impact people’s budgets, we just want to give people as much optionality as possible to put together whichever package of services they are comfortable with. Holanda said, adding that the company has its own IPTV streaming platform and is currently streaming its full lineup and VOD library to RCN customers on any device in the home. Grande customers will receive that capability in the fourth quarter, expanding to Wave customers in the first half of next year.
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