Antin makes first non-Europe investment with FirstLight deal

The US fibre optic purchase is not the start of a strategy shift for the European fund manager, but signals its willingness to pursue ‘unique’ opportunities in other OECD markets.

Antin Infrastructure Partners has agreed to buy a fibre optic developer operating in New England in the firm’s first deal outside of Europe.

The fund manager, based in London and Paris, said it will purchase FirstLight Fiber from private equity firm Oak Hill Capital Partners for an undisclosed amount. According to Antin senior partner Kevin Genieser, the deal is not a strategy shift to invest in markets outside of Europe. It instead shows a willingness to pursue “unique” opportunities, he said.

“If and when we have an opportunity to invest in North America, we will occasionally take a look [to see] if it meets our investment strategy and expected target returns,” Genieser told Infrastructure Investor. “We found this to be a very strong platform in the fibre space.”

Antin invested in FirstLight through its Antin Infrastructure Partners III, which closed in December 2016 on €3.6 billion, according to Genieser. UBS Investment Bank, TD Securities and Jefferies Finance have agreed to provide leverage.

Genieser said the deal was motivated in part by Antin’s first investment in the fibre optic space. In 2015, the firm paid €875 million for the company Eurofiber. “We’ve been very pleased with our Eurofiber investment, and frankly this seemed to have many of the same characteristics,” Genieser said.

Antin has raised a combined €7.4 billion and invested across three infrastructure funds. The FirstLight deal puts Fund III at around a third of the way committed. Its previous two deals include the acquisition of Kisimul, a special needs children’s school in the UK, and a private clinic network in France.

Antin said the FirstLight acquisition is subject to regulatory approval and expects it to close in the second half of this year.

Headquartered in Albany, New York, FirstLight’s roots date back to 1999 when Kevin O’Connor founded the company as Tech Valley Communications. Oak Hill acquired the company in September 2016 from middle market private equity firm Riverside Partners, which retained a minority stake.

During Oak Hill’s ownership, FirstLight expanded its portfolio through four acquisitions, increasing its number of fibre routes to over 14,000 miles in six US states: Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont.