UK’s TalkTalk to go private with £1.1 billion buyout offer

  • Sir Charles Dunstone is rolling his shares over to the new private company
  • The vision is for fourth-ranked TalkTalk to become an affordable fibre provider
  • Will a history of epic failure mean a name change could be in order?

The UK’s fourth largest broadband provider, TalkTalk, has commended a £1.1 billion offer to its shareholders to take the company private. The deal sees its shares valued at 97p, well below a pre-Covid offer made to TalkTalk’s board last year by Toscafund which, like TalkTalk’s founder, Sir Charles Dunstone, holds about 30 per cent of the company. 

TalkTalk was formed as a division of the retail chain, Carphone Warehouse, and was spun off, along with Dunstone, in 2010.

When it launched in 2004, telecoms meant voice first and data a distant second. In fact at that time low speed data service (ADSL) was often  bundled as an extra with a telephony deal. So today a name change to DataData might make sense, signalling a new beginning and reinforcing the company’s avowed strategic intention to become known as an “affordable fibre provider.”  

The last decade especially has been a roller coaster ride for the TalkTalk. Being a low-cost provider seemed to doom it to being bottom, or close to bottom, of any performance ranking of service providers in the UK - it was bad on reliability, bad on customer support, and bad on customer complaints (that’s if you could get through to the complaints desk). 

For instance, Talktalk’s service was also bottom of an Ofcom poll for three years running with the largest total of customer complaints between 2017 and 2019.  Despite this, its low cost made it popular with many loyal broadband users and it  sailed on. 

Its worst moment by far came in 2015 when a security breach saw nearly 157,000 customers’ records accessed and the bank account numbers and sort codes of over 15,000 of them taken. That was a disaster of epic proportions and the UK Information Commissioner's Office investigated and found multiple failings in TalkTalk's security processes, resulting in a record fine of £400,000.

Current shareholders can decide to eschew the 97p offer in favour of rolling their shares over and joining Dunstone in the new fibre-oriented TalkTalk. They will be hoping the only direction for the roller coaster now is ‘up’.

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