April 13, 2017 / 7:45 PM / 3 months ago

Exclusive: Lightower Fiber Networks explores sale - sources

(Reuters) - Lightower Fiber Networks is exploring a sale that its private equity owners hope will value the high-speed internet U.S. infrastructure company at more than $7 billion, including debt, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The sale process comes just as growing demand from U.S. businesses for fast data transfers has fuelled a revival in fibre-optic services and has driven many telecommunications providers to find ways to expand their reach.

Lightower is working with investment banks Evercore Partners Inc EVP.N and Citigroup Inc (C.N) on an auction for the Boxborough, Massachusetts-based company, which is still at its early stages, the sources said this week.

CenturyLink (CTL.N), Zayo Group Holdings (ZAYO.N) and Crown Castle International Corp (CCI.N) are among business communications services and infrastructure companies that are expected to consider whether to make an offer for Lightower, the sources added.

Lightower may choose to pursue an initial public offering if the acquisition offers it receives do not meet its valuation expectations, one of the sources added.

The sources asked not to be identified because the deliberations are confidential.

Lightower, Evercore, CenturyLink, Zayo and Crown Castle did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Citi declined to comment.

Companies in the sector are seeking scale to cope with heavier internet traffic coming from businesses. CenturyLink Inc agreed to buy Level 3 Communications (LVLT.N) for $34 billion last year, adding 200,000 miles (321,870 km) of fibre to its network.

Lightower connects business clients to larger networks, allowing data and internet traffic to be transmitted at ultra-fast speeds through thin filaments of glass.

Its network spans more than 33,000 fibre route miles and serves the financial services industry, as well as government clients over its network in the Northeastern United States.

Formed by private equity firm Berkshire Partners LLC, Lightower been an industry consolidator itself. It bought Fibertech Networks LLC in 2015 for $1.9 billion, in an all-cash deal.

Berkshire Partners led an acquisition and merger of enterprise telecommunications service providers Lightower and another company, Sidera Networks, in 2013, in a deal valued at more than $2 billion. Pamlico Capital, an investor in Lightower, and ABRY Partners LLC, an investor in Sidera, took minority stakes in the combined companies.

Reporting by Liana B. Baker and Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Editing by Sandra Maler

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