Windstream to Buy Dial-Up Pioneer Earthlink

The $673 million deal combines network service providers at a time of rapid consolidation in the enterprise communications space.
Matthew HellerNovember 7, 2016
Windstream to Buy Dial-Up Pioneer Earthlink

Windstream has agreed to acquire Earthlink for $673 million in a merger of network service providers aimed at the enterprise market.

Earthlink launched a dial-up internet service in 1994, becoming one of the first mainstream internet providers, along with AOL and CompuServe. It has 671,000 consumer subscribers but has shifted to an an enterprise-oriented model, providing network services to small- and medium-sized businesses.

Under the merger deal, EarthLink shareholders will receive 0.818 Windstream shares for each share they own, valuing EarthLink at $5.92 a share. The offer price represents a 9.2% premium to the close on Nov. 3, before media reports about a possible deal emerged.

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Including debt, the total value of the transaction is $1.1 billion. The companies said the merger “will result in an extensive national footprint spanning approximately 145,000 fiber route miles and provide advanced network connectivity, managed services, voice, internet and other value-added services.”

“The combination with EarthLink further advances Windstream’s strategy by creating a stronger, more competitive business to serve our customers while increasing free cash flow and reducing leverage,” Windstream CEO Tony Thomas said in a news release.

Windstream has about 1 million residential internet subscribers, but according to Ars Technica, the merger is “really about business customers, tax benefits, and cost savings.”

Services for enterprises, small businesses, and carriers now provide nearly 80%of EarthLink’s revenue. It lost money in 2014 and 2015 but reported profits of about $12.2 million in the first three quarters of this year combined.

“The combined company will have significantly more scale particularly within EarthLink’s focus enterprise/mid-market business, which would likely allow it to more effectively compete against many of its much larger competitors,” Cowen & Co. analyst Gregory Williams said in a research report.

The enterprise communications space has been consolidating rapidly, with CenturyLink last week announcing a deal to buy Level 3 Communications for about $24 billion. “We look forward to working with the Windstream team to better serve our customers in a world that is becoming more network-centric every day,” Earthlink CEO Joe Eazor said.