i3 Broadband makes moves in Missouri with Big River buy, $100M investment

Illinois-based fiber provider i3 Broadband is looking to accelerate its expansion in Missouri, scooping up commercial and residential service provider Big River Broadband for an undisclosed sum. The operator also announced plans to spend $100 million on additional expansion efforts in the southeastern part of the state, where it will face off with AT&T and Charter Communications.

The deal announced this week includes Big River Broadband’s commercial business as well as its residential subsidiary Circle Fiber. Together, the entities serve parts of Cape Girardeau, Perry, St. Genevieve, St. Francois, Butler, Washington, Bollinger and Scott counties in Missouri.

Paul Cronin, i3’s CEO, told Fierce “we have long felt that the Missouri market is a very attractive market. We felt that our services align with what we believe our research says Missouri residents are looking for in terms of fiber to the home access.” While it had a very “aggressive” plan to expand on its own in southeastern Missouri, Cronin said it jumped at the chance to engage in discussions with Big River. He added i3 believes its assets and skillsets are complementary to those of Big River and Circle Fiber and will allow it to combine residential and commercial expertise.

Based in Illinois, i3 Broadband’s roots date back to 1994 though the operator didn’t assume its current moniker until 2016. Its core markets of Peoria, Champaign-Urbana and Springfield are in its home state. However, it scooped up Rhode Island-based Full Channel in 2018 and opened its first office in St. Charles County, Missouri in 2021. In June of last year, the company announced plans to spend $300 million over the course of two years to expand its reach across West St. Louis County and the Metro East area in Missouri.

According to Cronin, i3 uses GPON in its existing markets, allowing it to offer symmetrical service plans from 100 Mbps to 1 gig. But he noted it plans to use XGS-PON in new markets in Missouri to offer a symmetrical 10-gig product in the near future. It will upgrade its legacy markets as demand dictates, he said.

In Illinois, i3’s main competition is cable provider Comcast but over in Missouri it is up against telecom giants AT&T and Charter Communications as well as fixed wireless providers including Verizon, T-Mobile and Wisper Internet. Last month, Charter won $11.8 million to expand its service across Jefferson and Washington counties in Missouri.

But Cronin said i3 isn’t afraid of competition. Unlike many of the startups jumping into the fiber market, Cronin noted i3 has plenty of experience and a “track record of solid performance” under its belt. He added that where it’s competing against large legacy incumbents i3 believes it has a technological and local touch advantage.

All told, i3 has a “couple hundred thousand” passings today and sees that number “increasing pretty rapidly over the next three to four years.” It will primarily focus on expansions in its existing markets of Illinois, Missouri and Rhode Island. However, Cronin said it is “actively” looking at expansion opportunities in other states across the country.