As featured in the October 5th issue of Albany Business Review.
By Justin Dawes – Reporter, Albany Business Review
The telecommunications and fiber optic internet provider FirstLight has made seven acquisitions in the past two years, and an eighth one is expected to close later this year. Since 2013, the Albany-based company has grown from 150 employees to around 600.
FirstLight has completed these deals following greater access to capital since it was acquired in July 2018 by Antin Infrastructure Partners, a private equity firm based in Paris and London that specializes in infrastructure investments, said Patrick Coughlin, chief development officer of FirstLight.
FirstLight provides internet, data, cloud and voice services to clientele that includes the industries of health care, banking and financial, education, local and state governments and national cell phone carriers.
Coughlin said higher education and health care customers in particular needed increased bandwidth when the pandemic hit in March and April.
“The one thing I think we’re most proud of is we were able to accommodate all of those upgrade opportunities in record time for us,” Coughlin said. “We set up an internal task force to deal with those opportunities because we knew the hospitals and the schools needed that bandwidth, and we needed to look at our business in a different way than we probably previously had.”
The acquisition of Todd Cable Construction in 2019 was key to being able to expand services during the pandemic, according to Maura Mahoney, chief marketing officer for FirstLight.
In 2018, Mahoney said FirstLight built 1,000 route miles. Last year, it built 2,000. This year, the company is on track to build 4,000.
“So we are not just acquiring companies, but we are building within our footprint, adding density to continue to be able to serve these customers,” Mahoney said. “And bringing that construction expertise was critical to being able to accelerate and really propel us to be able to build these networks during this pandemic. Without them, I think we would have been more challenged to be able to complete these projects.”
Mahoney said the company, especially during the pandemic, has also been growing some of its cloud services. An acquisition of TruePath Technologies that finished in early September added network monitoring to FirstLight’s portfolio of services.
Going forward, FirstLight is looking to continue growing access to its broadband network, especially in underserved markets, Coughlin said. A lot of the regional fiber companies First Light has acquired have been family owned with limited capital. After an acquisition by FirstLight, the work in those areas can continue.
With more people working from home because of the pandemic, Coughlin said there’s a lot of potential for federal funding that will help increase access to broadband. He wants FirstLight to be involved.
“As far out to the edges as we can go,” Coughlin said.
As technology continues to advance and becomes more integrated in our everyday lives — from regular internet use to autonomous cars and smart refrigerators — Mahoney said access to a fiber network will be increasingly important, as well.
“If you think about the amount of bandwidth we consume, it has done nothing but increase,” Mahoney said. “The reason fiber is so important is because it has virtually unlimited bandwidth.”
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