United, Athena combine forces

Friday, July 28, 2017

Two area communications providers are combining in order to better expand and enhance broadband access in the south central Tennessee region.

Chapel Hill-based United Communications announced the acquisition of Shelbyville’s Athena Broadband on Tuesday.

“It makes a lot of sense to come together and tackle some of these access issues in rural Tennessee,” said United President and CEO William Bradford.

The two companies have discussed combining forces for quite a while.

“It took time to figure out how to make it work,” said Athena co-founder Josh Lynch. “Its seemed like a good time to take advantage of the network they have in place.”

Both men agreed that the two companies were a good fit, both in terms of their technology and in their coverage areas.

Bradford said that the combination of United’s fiber optic ring and Athena’s wireless towers complement each other for expanding high speed service.

United has been working on extending fiber optic cable through their service area for years, adding Lewisburg and Shelbyville to the network within the last 30 days.

Now the combined company will be able to connect fiber to Athena’s network of 50 wireless towers, enabling them to increase speed and service for wireless customers without having to run fiber to each individually.

“You need all kinds of different tools to serve rural areas,” said Bradford.

Bradford said that customers should see increased capacity within 60 to 90 days as United ties their fiber network into Athena’s towers.

With little overlap, the combined service area of the new-look United will offer the company a broader customer base, while enabling them to bring broadband to more people.

Expansion of broadband access into rural areas is a nationwide issue as high speed internet availability is seen as a driving force in education and business development in today’s world.

One of the hallmarks of Governor Bill Haslam’s legislative agenda this past year was the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, aimed at easing the introduction of broadband to the state’s rural areas.

The company will keep both offices, in Chapel Hill and Shelbyville, open with no impact on current employees.

“This is a fast growing company,” Lynch said. “If anything we would be looking at more people in the future.”

Both Lynch and his co-founder John Rowland will join the management team at United, with Lynch heading up business development.

“We love their technical expertise and their entrepreneurial talent,” said Bradford. “It will allow both of us to be our best.”

Bradford said that United was already looking for additional tower locations and would have more announcements in the near future regarding expansion of their service area.