OLYMPIA — A billion-dollar deal affecting thousands of telephone, TV and internet customers in the Northwest is a regulatory step closer to being finalized.
The state Utilities and Transportation Commission has reached a proposed agreement on the ownership transfer of the regional operations of Frontier Communications to Kirkland-based WaveDivision Capital. The deal was first announced last May.
The UTC has regulatory authority over landline service providers like Frontier. The agreement — standard for any sale or merger proposal — spells out Wave Division’s responsibilities to the public after the $1.3 billion sale closes.
“Our interests are to promote the public interests,” said Mark Vasconi, the commission’s director of regulatory services.
Wave pledged to invest at least $50 million in the state to increase broadband coverage and to support a statewide initiative to provide enhanced 911 services, according to the agreement.
Frontier is one of the largest local telephone companies in the state and also provides TV and internet connectivity. Its Western Washington headquarters is in Everett.
WaveDivision declined to comment this week, saying it doesn’t have any updates to share.
A review of the proposed deal is scheduled for Jan. 27. Public comment will not be taken at that time, an agency spokesman said.
The public may comment online at www.utc.wa.gov/comments.
The agency’s three commissioners have the final authority to approve, reject or modify the agreement and could issue a final decision between March and May, Vasconi said.
The Federal Communications Commission is conducting a separate review.
Frontier, which is based in Norwalk, Connecticut, serves about 156,000 residential and business customers in Washington and another 194,000 in Oregon, Idaho and Montana, according to the UTC.
Wave is also purchasing Frontier’s operations in Oregon, Idaho and Montana. Regulators in those three states are also reviewing the deal.
Wave Division plans to operate the company under the Northwest Fiber banner. The company said it will continue investing in the Washington network “at levels at or higher than those of Frontier NW,” and plans to maintain the network “to ensure that traditional voice telecommunications service (landline) continues to be available throughout Frontier NW’s service footprint,” according to the agreement.
The company “expects to have approximately $300 million in cash on its balance sheet at closing, sufficient to fully fund significant planned network upgrades,” according to the agreement.
Northwest Fiber also promised that the deal would be “transparent to existing customers in Washington,” and it would notify customers ahead of the changeover.
“Our plan is to invest further in our markets, specifically by extending fiber to more homes and businesses, to bring them the high speeds they want,” Wave’s CEO, Steve Weed, said previously in a news release.
If the Wave name sounds familiar, Weed was founder and CEO of Wave Broadband, a West Coast internet provider that was sold in 2018 for $2.3 billion. WaveDivision has investments in telecom companies all over North America.
Janice Podsada; jpodsada; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods