Cequel Communications, which operates through subsidiary Suddenlink, provides cable TV, high-speed Internet access, and phone services to about 1.4 million business and residential customers. The company primarily serves rural markets in Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia, among other states. It also offers home security system installation and monitoring services. Suddenlink's services for business clients include high-capacity networking and Web hosting. The company's CoStreet division provides fiber optic networking and backhaul services to other carriers. A group of investors and company executives are acquiring Cequel for $6.6 billion, including $4.1 billion in debt.
Led by company chairman and CEO Jerry Kent and director Howard Wood, the group includes London-based BC Partners and Toronto-based Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, which will buy the preferred and common stakes currently owned by Goldman Sachs Capital Partners, Quadrangle Group, and Oaktree Capital.
As a small-market cable provider, Suddenlink's customers aren't big ticket buyers. The majority of its customers, 1.2 million, are residential, basic cable subscribers that receive less than 30 channels. About 760,000 customers subscribe to digital cable and receive up to 300 channels. More than 950,000 residential customers also rely on Suddenlink for Internet service, while about 430,000 others have traditional telephone lines. The remainder of Suddenlink's business is comprised of equipment rental, advertising sales, and other services.
While most of its customers are basic cable subscribers, growth for that segment is relatively flat year-over-year while the digital video, Internet, and phone segments are growing quickly, turning in double-digit growth in each of the past two years.
Nearly half of Suddenlink's $1.9 billion in sales in 2011 came from its core cable video segment; another quarter was generated by broadband Internet accounts. Total revenue was up 12% for the year, continuing a history of revenue growth, while operating expenses rose nearly the same amount. The company lost $15 million in 2011 due to acquisition expenses and investments in the expansion and upgrade of its cable systems. While it has never turned a profit, Suddenlink's loss for the year was two-thirds less than in 2010.
To further its ability to offer top-tier services, Suddenlink is expanding its bandwidth in a three-year investment initiative called Project Imagine that is due to be completed by the end of 2012. The company is spending up to $230 million to improve the capacity and efficiency of its network architecture to allow it to offer more digital channels. This effort will increase its number of HD channels, expand its video on demand (VOD) offerings and capabilities, offer higher-speed Internet access, and launch digital phone service in a few additional markets.
As the seventh-largest cable provider in the US, Suddenlink continues to expand its products and services in key regions while divesting operations in non-core locations. The company added 80,000 customers with the 2011 purchase of NPG Cable, a subsidiary of the News-Press & Gazette Company. NPG Cable's customers were located in St. Joseph, Missouri; Mammoth Lakes, California; and several Arizona communities such as Flagstaff, Kingman Lake Havasu, and Sedona. Also in 2011 it added online streaming video service called Suddenlink2GO and doubled its video-on-demand capacity.
The previous year Suddenlink sold cable operations in Salem, West Virginia, and Oakland, Maryland, to Shenandoah Telecommunications for $4.5 million. At the same time it expanded to Mississippi when it bought the operations of Windjammer Communications, a rival small town cable provider, for $20 million. – less