Searchlight Capital Partners, a private investment firm with nearly $9 billion in assets around the world, has invested in rural broadband internet provider All Points Broadband as the company works to extend its fiber optic network.
The investment will also put former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on the All Points board.
Founded in 2014, All Points Broadband now serves approximately 25,000 customers through a combination of fiber-to-the-home and fixed wireless networks in Virginia and Kentucky, according to a press release announcing the investment. Over the past 18 months, the company has begun focusing on building out rural fiber to the home, including through partnerships with electric utilities. In Loudoun, the company has partnered with Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative to bring broadband internet to underserved areas, and some county supervisors have indicated the company is a favorite for their plans to pursue state funding to help build out broadband internet access. The company on July 8 also celebrated the groundbreaking of its project in partnership with Dominion Energy Virginia and Northern Neck Electric Cooperative to bring fiber-optic broadband to about 7,200 households and businesses in the Northern Neck.
Searchlight’s investment will accelerate and expand the company’s work, according to the press release.
“All Points’ mission is bridging the digital divide for all homes and businesses in all the communities we serve,” Carr stated in the July 6 announcement. “We have pioneered a new model for connecting rural America through public-private and electric utility partnerships. Searchlight is one of North America’s premier investors in broadband networks, and the investment by Searchlight and Simple Broadband will support our continued and aggressive expansion into new jurisdictions seeking a partner that can deliver [fiber to the home] for all of their underserved homes and businesses.”
Simple Broadband LLC is a platform established by Simple Networks LLC and Armavir Partners LLC to invest in broadband related opportunities.
Pai is best known for his term as FCC Chairman during the Trump administration, when he fought to roll back net neutrality, the principal that internet service providers must treat all traffic the same rather than, for example, blocking traffic from some sites or charging more to access them.
The push, backed by industry lobbyists, caused a massive outcry, with more than 50,000 websites taking part in a “Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality,” including big names like Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, and Google. Amid suspicion of fake comments in support of the rule change during the FCC’s public comment period, Pai refused to hand over evidence or help a New York Attorney General investigation into the scope of manipulation by internet service providers.
Pai resigned the day President Joe Biden was inaugurated and took a job as a partner at Searchlight.
All Points Broadband at the time of that debate also expressed their support for principles of net neutrality, with founder and CEO Jimmy Carr pledging in 2017 that the company does not block or throttle any legal content unless necessary to relieve network congestion—explaining that, for example “during periods of peak congestion, we may limit the portion of your connection that is allocated to all those automatic software upgrades that are frequently (and without your knowledge) running in the background.” He also wrote that the company supports “robust privacy protections” for customers.
Carr said Pai would join the All Points board as part of a major capital infusion for the specific purpose of growing the fiber-to-the-home network.
“This is a significant indicator of the importance of what we’re doing and validates the approach we’ve successfully pioneered elsewhere in Virginia,” Carr wrote by email. “This is great news for Loudoun County. Ajit’s past positions on regulatory policy aren’t relevant to All Points’ mission to improve internet access in Loudoun and elsewhere. All Points has embraced the principles of net neutrality (no blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization) since inception and will continue to do so.”
“The coronavirus pandemic has ended any debate about the need to expand Internet access to all Americans. Today, broadband is not a luxury. It is a necessity in modern American life. But too many Americans still find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide,” Pai stated in the announcement. “Searchlight’s investment will help APB meaningfully bridge that divide for many thousands of consumers in Virginia and the mid-Atlantic. More generally, this transaction highlights how a unique partnership among governments at all levels, electric utilities, ISPs, and private capital can deliver major benefits for consumers.”
The transaction is subject to regulatory approvals and is expected to close in the third quarter.