Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Another incumbent buys open access fiber

Private-equity owned companies are frequently the subject of ridicule, due to a perception that they're purely run for cash, by shareholders who are always looking for the exit, and who, in some cases are clueless. That point of view is often justified, and there are other situations where very bright and talented people who are genuinely committed to the business end up in untenable situations, but there are also some comparatively rare situations where the PE sponsors genuinely seem to understand how to build value and innovate in ways which public companies struggle to match.

Take TDC, whose shareholders were not only bold enough to basically pay the record industry to shut up, but are now following KPN into open access fiber, purchasing c.60% of the network assets (apart from those involved in monitoring the grid) of the unfortunately named DONG Energy, for DKK325m cash plus an additional DKK100m in earn-out structured as a revenue share. The key difference here is that DONG has built out much more extensively than Reggefiber has. Two summers ago, when on vacation in North Zealand, I remember driving through small villages, remote by Danish standards, where fiber was being rolled.

By allowing DONG to take the capex and commercial risk in deploying the network, TDC avoided having to listen to lenders complaining and fretting, until the asset was mature enough to buy in. (It always fascinates me that investors prefer M&A to capex.) From DONG's perspective, it seems as though the company struggled to build a customer base in the absence of third party carrier relationships, which of course TDC has in abundance, so it probably was an inescapable outcome that DONG would sell out and leave the telco-ing to the telco.

No comments: