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Mergers, acquisitions and updates on telecom in Florida

Telecom & Cyber-Security

» Mega Merger

After acquiring Bright House Networks and Time Warner Cable for a combined $71 billion last year, Charter Communications became the secondlargest cable operator in the country after Comcast and a major player in Florida’s Tampa and Orlando markets, where it serves about 2 million customers. The Stamford, Conn.based company is operating under the Spectrum brand in Florida.

» A New Frontier

Frontier Communications bought Verizon’s wireline operations in California, Texas and Florida last year for $10.5 billion. It was the largest acquisition to date for the Norwalk, Conn.based company, which doubled its size with the move. But the transition was bumpy for hundreds of Tampa Bay customers, who experienced service disruptions, slow network connections, billing snafus and other problems.

Similar problems plagued the carrier in its new markets in Texas and California, and the troubles took a toll on Frontier’s bottom line as the company moved its offshore call center back to the U.S. to deal with customer complaints.

Despite a rocky start, Frontier executives say the company is back on track. “Yes, there were hiccups, and we’ve turned that corner and those days are behind us,” says Melanie Williams, Florida senior vice president and general manager. Customer service requests are back to normal levels, she says, and the company is up to date with its repair commitments.

Looking ahead, Williams says the company is focused on growing commercial sales and promoting Frontier Secure, a set of products providing computer security, cloud sharing, backup identity protection and other services. At the end of the day, she says, Frontier is committed to being in the Tampa Bay market. “It was a big deal for us to be here. We treat it as a big deal.”

Moving In

» Hotwire Communications, which specializes in providing high-speed fiber connections for communities, relocated its headquarters from Philadelphia to Fort Lauderdale last fall. The move will eventually result in 375 new jobs. Karla Thatcher, Hotwire’s director of public relations, says the company chose Fort Lauderdale because of its large and growing customer base in southeast Florida. “A good portion of our operations center employees were working from Florida, so it made sense to find a larger space to work under one roof,” Thatcher says. The company received $1.9 million in state and local incentives as part its relocation deal.

» Granite Telecommunications, a Massachusetts firm that provides voice, data and other communications products to businesses, opened an office in Orlando last year and expanded its West Palm Beach business unit, creating 100 jobs.

In the Spotlight

Mark Jamison, director of the University of Florida’s Public Utility Research Center, made headlines last fall when President Trump named him to his transition team to focus on the Federal Communications Commission. A former Sprint lobbyist and visiting fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Jamison is a staunch opponent of net neutrality, which forbids internet providers from blocking or throttling traffic to particular websites, such as Netflix or Facebook, or charging consumers fees for enhanced services like faster speeds. He’s also proposed dismantling the FCC, which he argues has become too political and essentially outdated in the internet era.

The Need for Speed

AT&T is expanding its “ultrafast” internet service, known as AT&T Fiber, across the state. Available in Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando and West Palm Beach, the 1-gigabit-per-second service is also headed to Gainesville, Panama City and Pensacola. The telecom giant says it’s on track to serve 12.5 million locations by mid-2019. How fast is 1 gigabit per second? It’s about 20 times faster than the typical cable speed, which means you can download about 25 songs in one second or a 90-minute high-definition movie in fewer than 34 seconds.

Google Fiber, meanwhile, has shelved plans to build out a new fiber-optic network for high-speed internet access in several cities across the U.S., including Jacksonville and Tampa.


The Weakest Link: Human Factor

Whether it’s an employee acting maliciously or just accidentally clicking on a phishing link, people remain the weakest link in information systems security, experts say. Here’s how three Florida companies are confronting the human element of cyber-security.


Palm Beach Gardens

Focus: Employee monitoring

Innovation: Veriato plans to add mobile devices to its coverage this year

Cost: With products starting at as little as $1,000, “we’ve tried to make it accessible,” says CEO Mike Tierney.

During its early years, Veriato, then known as SpectorSoft, catered mostly to the consumer market with software that helped parents keep tab on their kids’ online activity. Today, the company concentrates on helping businesses thwart insider attacks. The company’s Veriato 360 software tracks how much time employees are spending online and scans system activity for signs of data theft, employee fraud and data breaches, says Tierney.



Focus: Co-managed security services

Funding and Expansion: The company attracted $30 million in venture capital last summer and moved into new headquarters.

Many customers have “spent millions of dollars buying hardware and software they weren’t getting any value out of,” says CEO Brian Murphy. “It takes a lot of people to manage these technologies, deciphering all the information coming off of it.” Under ReliaQuest’s “co-managed” security model, companies can keep the security infrastructure they already have but get 24/7 help managing and improving the infrastructure. Murphy says his team puts clients in a position to be able to make decisions on accurate security information “rather than spending all their time trying to get those tools to work.” With a little more than 200 employees at the end of 2016, ReliaQuest has been hiring at a rate of 15 to 20 employees each month.



Focus: Security awareness training

Annual Revenue: $20 million to $25 million

Employees: 200, growing by about 15 employees per month

In the 1990s, Kevin Mitnick was one of the world’s most notorious computer hackers. Today, he earns his living as a computer security consultant. Stu Sjouwerman, founder and CEO of KnowBe4, met Mitnick several years ago and offered him an ownership stake in the company in exchange for his expertise. The collaboration has resulted in one of KnowBe4’s hottest products — Kevin Mitnick Security Awareness Training. The half-hour, web-based, interactive training program teaches how not to fall victim to phishing, malware, ransomware and other cyberthreats. After landing $8 million in venture capital funding last year, KnowBe4 has been adding staff and is aiming to go public in the next several years.

Phone Trends

51.0% Percentage of wireless-only households in Florida in 2015

15.6% Households with both wireless and land line

15.4% Households with wireless mostly

8.0% Households with land line mostly

6.1% Florida adults with land line only

3.8% Florida adults with no telephone service

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Insurance: Cyber-Liability

In 2016, 80% of companies bought a cyber-insurance policy, a 29% increase from 2015, according to a recent survey of 272 companies by the Risk and Insurance Management Society. Nearly a quarter of companies surveyed spent more than $500,000 on their coverage.

Obtaining cyber-risk policies is complex. Companies are generally audited by a third party that will look at the firm’s IT infrastructure and systems and analyze its vulnerabilities and risks, says Sri Sridharan, managing director and COO for the Florida Center for Cybersecurity at University of South Florida. “Every policy is a custom policy.”

Even when they have coverage, many companies are under-insured. Target incurred $252 million in expenses related to a 2013 data breach but had only $90 million in insurance compensation, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Telecom & Cyber- Security

Economic Backbone

$400 billion

Estimated annual business costs of cyber-crime