Meridiam, an infrastructure private equity firm, and the City of Bloomington, Indiana, announced plans for Meridiam to invest more than $50m to build-out a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network to nearly every neighborhood and resident in the city. Moreover, Meridiam is expected to announce fiber investments in additional southern Indiana cities in the coming weeks, in order to meet its investment size thresholds. As such, the City of Bloomington partnership “will lead to a regional broadband initiative” in Indiana for Meridiam.
As Bloomington’s Mayor John Hamilton states “Meridiam expressed interest in expanding their investment to include other cities in the region”, continuing, he says “they identified three additional communities which we expect may enjoy similar investments in a city-wide network in the near future: Columbus, Martinsville, and Shelbyville”.
Meridiam’s Fiber Build-Out – Bloomington, Indiana
Meridiam’s initial fiber build-out, as part of its regional broadband initiative, will begin with Bloomington, Indiana. As shown below, Bloomington is part of Monroe County, which is located in south-central Indiana, southwest of Indianapolis.
Bloomington, which has 85k residents, is the 7th-largest city in Indiana and the 4th-largest outside the Indianapolis metropolitan area. Throughout Bloomington, Meridiam plans to establish a community-wide high-speed fiber network.
Meridiam will build its fiber network reaching virtually all, and at least 85% of, Bloomington residences. In terms of timing, construction will start as soon as Q4 2022 and Mayor John Hamilton estimates that the project will be a “two- to three-year build-out”.
Presently, Meridiam is working with fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) construction contractor Atlantic Engineering Group (AEG). Notably, in April 2022, AEG was acquired by Grain Management-backed Y-COM, another construction services company serving the telecommunications sector.
Open Access Wholesale Fiber Network
Meridiam will build and operate an open access wholesale fiber network which will enable multiple internet service providers (ISPs) and carriers to use the same infrastructure and offer broadband services to their end users. To this end, Meridiam is a network infrastructure provider, not an ISP, but they contract with other ISPs.
Initially, Meridiam’s network will launch with an exclusive internet service provider (ISP) partner for a period of a “few years”. Through a contract with this initial undisclosed ISP, Meridiam’s network will offer service of at least 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) symmetrical speed (i.e., upload and download) across its entire footprint.
After the exclusive period ends, the network will become a full open access network, available to other ISPs for the lifetime of the network. For example, ISPs currently serving Bloomington, Indiana with broadband, that would gain access to Meridiam’s network, include AT&T, Comcast (Xfinity), and Smithville.
Conduit Access Rights
As part of the Bloomington Digital Underground (BDU) initiative, the City of Bloomington, Indiana has installed multiple conduits, in part to encourage investment in fiber infrastructure. Importantly, Meridiam’s investment includes access to unused / vacant conduit of the city for a term of 30 years.
Simply put, a conduit is a pipe, usually made of metal, ceramic, or plastic that protects underground fiber-optic cables.
Digital Equity Initiative
Meridiam and the City of Bloomington, Indiana will collaborate on a digital equity initiative, through which the city will make up to a $1m investment. Specifically, this initiative will provide income-qualifying households with 250 megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical internet service for $30 per month.
Additionally, Meridiam and the City of Bloomington will together provide the “drop” connection to qualifying households at no cost. This effort, in combination with the Biden Administration’s new $30 per month Affordable Connectivity Program means low-income residents can receive fiber-based internet service at zero net cost.
Meridiam – Overview
Meridiam is a Paris, France-headquartered infrastructure private equity firm with $18bn+ (€15bn+) of assets under management (AUM) through its various infrastructure funds and managed accounts / co-investments. The firm has investments in ~100 projects and assets under development, construction, or operation, in 26 countries globally. Within digital infrastructure, Meridiam has been particularly active in the fiber sub-sector:
In March 2020, Meridiam and Vodafone Deutschland partnered to provide fiber-optic access for 40k inhabitants in the community of Montabaur, which is located 62 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of Frankfurt, Germany.
Liezen District, Austria
In December 2021, Meridiam was selected to develop a fiber network to 50k+ homes in 29 municipalities of Liezen District (Bezirk Liezen), which is in the state of Styria, Austria. As part of a 50-year contract to roll-out, finance, operate, and maintain this fiber network, Meridiam will invest €100m+.
In April 2022, Meridiam closed on its acquisition of Netcity Fibre, which develops and operates an underground fiber-optic and duct telecommunications network in Bucharest, Romania. Presently, Netcity’s underground network spans over 1.1k miles (1.76k kilometers) in Bucharest and connects over 30k buildings in the city.