Ritter buys Millington Telephone, Cable

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The deal: In late September, Ritter Communications announced it had purchased western Tennessee's Millington Telephone Company and Millington Cable TV for an undisclosed amount. The CLEC took on about 20,000 residential and business customers through the acquisition, who are currently being served POTS as well as television and broadband over coax through those two providers.

Ritter also serves about 25,000 residential and business customers in its home market, covering 45 Arkansas communities, so the acquisition nearly doubles its customer base as well as expands its service footprint.

""When it came on the market as possibly being for sale it really fit into our core strategies of wanting to and needing to expand our geographic footprint [not only] in businesses we already knew, but also enter a market and have the telephone company and the cable company," said Dan Hatzenbuehler, CEO and chairman of Ritter, in an interview with FierceTelecom. "By being able to acquire both that enabled us to expand services farther over the copper network or the cable TV network."

Ritter and Millington share a similar heritage, having both entered the cable TV market in the 1980s. But Ritter has taken an acquisition-oriented path—purchasing cable systems in northeast and north central Arkansas from Cebridge Connections (which is now integrated into Suddenlink) in 2005, acquiring CableTel in 2008, and snapping up Optus' retail division in 2010.

Why it's significant: As smaller independent ILECs struggle to maintain profitability in a declining wireline world, CLECs and cable operators are looking at them as targets to expand their territories and consolidate communications assets—in order to defend themselves against even larger players.

Ritter's move is part of a five-year plan to become a facilities-based CLEC in strategic business hubs. For example, in Jonesboro, Ark., it's competing against AT&T and Suddenlink and hopes to lure away business voice and Internet customers onto its own fiber network. Hatzenbuehler said that Ritter plans to implement a similar strategy in the Millington markets. The provider also has its eye on wholesale opportunities such as Fiber to the Tower (FTTT) services, via its newly created transport division.