Is Windstream Boldly Setting a New Trend?

Carol Wilson
News Analysis
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large

Windstream's bold move Tuesday to separate its services business from the underlying physical network could be just the first of many such moves within telecom. (See Windstream Spins Network Assets Into a REIT.)

In fact, as Windstream Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: WIN) spins off its physical network assets - namely its copper and fiber distribution networks - into a real estate investment trust (REIT), the new company is expected to sign up other communications service providers as "tenants," company executives said today.

Wall Street cheered the move, lifting Windstream's stock by nearly 14% to $11.99, and even boosting other telecom stocks in anticipation of other similar deals.

The move puts the low-growth, capital-intensive part of a telecom operation -- the access networks -- into one business, while enabling the original parent company to focus on higher-growth strategic efforts in the enterprise space.

Windstream executives this morning were promoting the deal as a positive for all involved - its investors, its customers, and the two resulting companies, each of which will have a sound strategy going forward.

The deal "unlocks significant shareholder value" for Windstream investors, who get shares in the new company commensurate with their existing shares, and will receive dividends from both companies, says Windstream CEO Jeff Gardner.

For Windstream, the advantages are a massive reduction in its net debt -- to the tune of $3.2 billion -- made possible by payments from the REIT, enabling the company to move ahead more quickly with broadband expansion, the transition to an all-IP network, and additional new services for the mid-sized enterprise market it is targeting, he adds.

For consumer customers, the move means better access to broadband. The company is promising to expand the reach of its 10 Mbit/s broadband to 80% of its customers, while delivering 24 Mbit/s to 30% of its footprint.

As importantly, Gardner says, the company will be able to respond more quickly to new service demand in the enterprise space, where Windstream's network and cloud services target mid-sized businesses and often serve Tier 2 cities. (See Windstream Makes Regional Cloud Play and Windstream Portal Integrates Cloud, Network.)

"It's about better aligning with where we'd like to take the business, and [delivering] more flexibility to meet our business goals," the CEO comments. Noting the fast pace of change and the impact of mergers and acquisitions in the cloud and business services space, Gardner says the new Windstream will be more nimble and better able to respond.

Our NFV & the Data Center event digs deeper into how telecom service providers are evolving their data center strategies. You can check it out here on Light Reading.

The REIT, meanwhile, will initially have Windstream as an anchor tenant, but will be able to grow independently by physical expansion into other markets and by obtaining other tenants.

The deal, which has U.S. Internal Revenue Service approval but still needs state regulatory acceptance, is complex but straightforward. The new REIT will take on about $2.2 billion in Windstream debt in a straight debt-for-debt exchange, and also provide $1.2 billion in cash, which Windstream will use as part of its debt reduction plans. Windstream's net debt reduction, after fees and expenses, will be $3.2 billion.

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

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