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Level With Me: When Rumors Get Real

Carol Wilson

Sometimes you hear a rumor so often that you stop listening to it. Such was the case for me with the Level 3/tw telecom deal that finally happened today.

tw telecom inc. (Nasdaq: TWTC) has been a targeted acquisition in the rumor mill for so long that it was hard to take the latest round of rumors seriously. (See Level 3 to Acquire tw telecom for $5.7B.)

Obviously, however, rumors persist for a reason. Consolidation is a pervasive trend in telecom, and this is the latest example of why bigger is usually better for competing.

This deal is good for Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT)'s new focus on enterprise services, because tw telecom is the premier Ethernet services provider in the country, according to rankings from people such as Vertical Systems Group and industry reputation. Level 3 has tremendous fiber backbone resources and content delivery deals, while tw telecom has the local fiber reach and strong business market play -- much stronger than what Level 3 has had in the past.

Twice in the past year I've had executives from tw telecom competitors volunteer the fact that they purposely avoid going head-to-head with that particular service provider -- if tw telecom has direct connections to an office building and is actively selling services there, these two competitors look elsewhere to invest their own fiber dollars. The reason was the level of service that tw telecom was delivering and the recognition that it would be hard to beat.

The question for Level 3 will be how this integration is handled and if the combined company can perpetuate the level of service for which tw telecom has become known in the Ethernet world, or whether the integration process itself becomes an issue.

In the past, Level 3 has stumbled somewhat in managing the integration of large acquisitions -- this could well be a case of seeing what was learned from those previous problems.

As I wrote about earlier this year, tw telecom took a different tack when it absorbed a large fiber optic network operator Xpedius, back in the mid-aughts. CEO Larissa Herda and her team decided to bite the bullet and invest heavily in creating a single integrated backend from a hodgepodge of systems. Will Level 3 maintain this kind of integration and commitment. Does it need to? (See Doing the Dirty Work Pays Off.)

So while this may well be an obvious coming together of two players to create one, much larger, more competitive entity, there are still some questions hanging out there to be resolve.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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User Rank: Moderator
6/17/2014 | 5:56:13 AM
Re: Not Made in Heaven
One thing I put little currency in are Wall Street Analysts.


They brought us the Internet crash.  The telecom crash of insatiable demand - build it and they will come.


And of cousre, the "Too big to Fail" Financial collapse.


Finf me a Wall Street Analyst that has actual operating experience and was successful -- then they may have credibility.  Otherwise, they just run numbers.
Carol Wilson
Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
6/16/2014 | 8:40:40 PM
Re: Not Made in Heaven
I actually might have agreed with that assessment more if it weren't for some analysts chiming in - apparently Level 3 has been cleaning up its act, of late, and this may not be as much of a culture clash as it once was. 

I do think it will be interesting to see if the new entity can rise to tw telecom's standard. One indication will be how many of the key tw telecom leadership team are retained.
User Rank: Moderator
6/16/2014 | 8:02:38 PM
Not Made in Heaven

Talk about two totally different cultures -- there is going to be some serious clashes.

Level 3 is a low price player and TWTC is a value player with great discipline, systems and processes.

It's like a High School (Level 3) acquiring an Ivy League University (TWTC).
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/16/2014 | 5:47:43 PM
Re: Once in play; always in play
I think that these types if integrations are indeed difficult. But it is not like the two parties probably do not realize this. A merger like this must be a risk vs. reward proposition. And in order to spend all of this time and money to make it happen there must be some sort of plan to make all the moving parts work together. 

At least, one would think so. 
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/16/2014 | 12:27:32 PM
Re: Once in play; always in play
This reminded me of a rumor that turned out true in my neighborhood several years ago. The rumor was that two private schools were going to combine. People said it seemed so unlikely that it probably was true. Though the principal of one denied it, the merger did take place. However, it proved a difficult marriage, and the two entities divorced just a few years later. 
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/16/2014 | 12:06:07 PM
Once in play; always in play


Once something (credible) is in play, it tends to stick around. The only one I can remember that ever got away is GE-Honeywell marriage so long ago and that is because of their sheer size. Look at Sprint and T-Mobile and you can tell the stickiness especially in the size matters area. Of course, the recent growth desperate environment really exacerbates the M&A frenzy. Be thankful it is so much harder for this space to do domicile inversion like the medical space!


Just some random musings
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