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Anchorage-Based GCI To Sell Tower Division

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The Anchorage, Alaska-based multi-dimensional communications company intends to sell its tower division this year and gain up to $90 million, the company said Wednesday. “During 2016, we expect to monetize our urban wireless towers and rooftop locations for approximately $90 million in a sale leaseback transaction. We will redeploy and invest the cash received into our broadband infrastructure in Alaska.” The news was noted in the General Communications fourth quarter and full year 2015 results press release issued Wednesday from Anchorage.

“We also anticipate selling our urban wireless towers in 2016, which will provide us additional capital that we intend to re-invest in the growth of our company,” said Ron Duncan, GCI’s president and chief executive officer. “This sale will support significant investments in a diverse fiber to the North Slope and continued expansion of our TERRA network. These steps demonstrate GCI’s commitment to being the leader in broadband infrastructure in Alaska.”

As Inside Towers reported last fall, GCI, Alaska’s largest telecom which provides phone, television and Internet service to large sections of the state including many rural areas, was slammed October 20 with a $620,500 FCC fine for failing to register 118 cell towers — several of which were not properly lit to prevent accidents in the air. The FCC reached a settlement and the fine was paid at the time of the October announcement.

At the time, the company said the oversight to properly register the towers was discovered after reviewing its property following the 2013 merger between GCI and Alaska Communications System into the Alaska wireless network. Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, said, “Unregistered and unlit towers pose unacceptable risks to air and public safety. It is essential that communications towers are properly registered prior to construction, as well as properly lighted, to ensure that air traffic is aware of tower locations.”

March 4, 2016 |

5G Gets Its Push

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The push is on to get 5G into consumers’ hands. Like tomorrow. But first, it has to be invented, refined and out there. The good news is that’s already happening. Just last week a pair of U.S. senators introduced, as 360Law described it, “bipartisan legislation aimed at increasing the airwaves available for next-generation wireless services and reducing barriers to broadband deployment.”

U.S. Sens. John Thune, (R-SD), and Bill Nelson, (D-FL), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, introduced the Making Opportunities for Broadband Investment and Limiting Excessive and Needless Obstacles to Wireless, or Mobile Now, Act on February 11. 360Law added the bill codifies President Barack Obama’s 2010 directive to make 500 megahertz of spectrum available for wireless broadband use.”

Just about the same time as serious business was getting done in the Senate, the news ticker clicked off the headline “AT&T Joins Verizon In Trying To Bring You Super-Fast 5G Data.” Wowie zowie, it must be happening. Verizon’s “Newsy” site said “the company (AT&T) says customers could see speeds measured in gigabits per second, instead of megabits per second. That’s really fast.” Really fast means “10-to-100 times faster than the average 4G LTE connection.” Verizon said it is working on a fifth generation network that is 3-to-50 times faster than 4G LTE. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves because “5G Smartphones aren’t ready for mass production and that will take time to rollout,” reported the news site. “And, it will take some time to rollout 5G over the United States.”

Verizon announced last year it is already working on 5G service.

How fast is “fast” you ask? Well, it’s hard to imaging but “with 1Gigabit, a TV show can be downloaded in 3 seconds,” offered the Verizon site.

February 17, 2016 |

Crane to Train Residents of Indian River Shores on What 135’ Really Is

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Standing in the presence of an average NBA player, the typical basketball fan would have a tough time guessing the player’s exact height. And it’s probably even harder to guess how high a 135-foot tower would be sticking into the sky. But the folks in Indian River Shores, FL will get a better idea around midday today. Town officials say a crane will be extended 135-feet into the air from 12:30-to-2 pm at the electric substation at the west end of Fred Tuerk Drive. The crane then moves to the north side of the Town Hall complex, 6001 State Road A1A, from 2 to 3:30 pm.

“We encourage all interested residents to be sure to view the crane at these locations,” Town Manager Rob Stabe told tcpalm.com. “This will help them gain a reasonably accurate idea of what it would look like if a tower were to be installed.”

As Inside Towers reported last week, the Indian River Shores Town Council recently approved extending maximum height of a tower from 50 feet to 135 feet. A 135-foot tower could accommodate up to four cell companies.

Some residents expressed displeasure at the height of the tower, saying its “looming and colossal presence” would be seen everywhere within the town. But Councilman Tom Slater, according to tcpalm.com, said the tower is necessary to insure that cell users have service, particularly in emergencies. “We don’t want to compromise aesthetics and we don’t want to compromise performance. I think we should stop playing ping-pong, get together with our residents, and figure this whole thing out.”

February 9, 2016 |

Florida Town Considers Tower Up to 135’

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The Board of Education in Farmington Hills, MI last week cleared the school district to enter a 5-year lease deal with Verizon, paving the way for the carrier to construct a 120-foot tower on the grounds of the North Farmington High School. The agreement calls for Verizon to also place its operational equipment under the school’s bleachers and illuminate the area with lights on the pole.

The agreement with Verizon was crafted to mirror the AT&T agreement, explained Jon Riebe, FPS director of facilities management. That means a one-time payment of $50,000 for the district and another $1,800 per month. Each year, the lease fee has a compounded increase of 2.5%, according to Hometownlife.com. The agreement can be renewed for up to four additional 5-year periods. No sub-leasing is permitted.

“This will improve communication (at North Farmington),” Riebe said. “The district has Verizon service and North Farmington has a difficult time (now) receiving phone calls in school.”

February 2, 2016 |

Crown Castle Results Welcomed on Wall Street

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Despite reporting mixed financial results for the fourth quarter on Wednesday, most Wall Street analysts were cautiously upbeat about Crown Castle International’s performance. As Zacks noted yesterday, Crown’s “top line beats the Zacks Consensus Estimate but the bottom line lagged the same.”

The Houston-based company reported earnings per share of $1.11, “a penny short of the Zacks Consensus Estimate. However, GAAP net income fell roughly 5.1% year over year to $130.1 million. Net revenue in the quarter increased 2.2% year over year to $945.8 million, outpacing the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $932 million.”

After combing through the results, Cowen and Company analyst Colby Synesael told investors Crown Castle has “solid 4Q15 results that exceeded the mid-point of guidance and raised 2016 guidance albeit largely as a result of delayed churn.” And while the company also announced CEO Ben Moreland will be stepping down and that CFO Jay Brown will assume the role, the analyst observed that the management move “creates noise but really is a non-issue” at least for initial trading. “We expect the stock to trade up slightly relative to the overall market.” And CCI shares on the New York Stock Exchange did tick up nearly 2 percent or $1.62 yesterday to close at $84.81. As far as future growth goes, Synesael noted, Crown Castle, which acquired Sunesys only last summer, “maintained expectations for Sunesys which suggests very little growth and we believe will prove a source of additional upside during the year.” The analyst has an “outperform” rating on the issue and his 12-month target price $94 a share. Barclay’s Amir Rozwadowski last night gave the stock an Equal Weight/Neutral with a price target of $91, and upside of 9.4 percent.

Over at New/Street Research, analyst Spencer Kurn’s report maintained a “Neutral” rating on CCI but gave the company a positive review for its 4Q performance. “We expected a modest beat and raise this quarter and CCI delivered it cleanly. The most interesting component of the results was churn – some of the leases from PCS, LEAP, and Clearwire that CCI had earmarked to be terminated were actually extended.” The analyst said he found the company’s improved guidance “somewhat comforting after a week where some had feared Sprint may be shutting down a significant number of sites. The towers are trading near historic lows on AFFO (adjusted funds from operations) on the premise that organic growth is slowing; however, we think growth is poised to accelerate late in the year with the start of AWS-3 deployments. With low expectations and a clear path to accelerating growth, we recommend buying the towers.”

January 29, 2016 |

Jay Brown Set To Become Crown Castle’s President, CEO June 1

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After the stock market closed yesterday, Crown Castle International Corp. (NYSE: CCI) reported results for the quarter and year ended December 31, 2015, and announced that the Board of Directors has approved a succession plan for its Chief Executive Officer. The Houston-based tower company said Jay Brown, 43, currently Crown Castle’s Chief Financial Officer, will become Crown Castle’s President and Chief Executive Officer effective June 1. Ben Moreland, currently Crown Castle’s President and Chief Executive Officer, will remain in an executive position as Executive Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors.

“The fourth quarter 2015 results demonstrate the continuing investments being made by the wireless carriers as they seek to improve network quality and capacity in order to meet consumer demand,” Moreland said. “In addition to delivering great results throughout the year, we accomplished a number of strategic objectives in 2015, that strengthened our portfolio of assets, expanded our growth opportunities and fortified our balance sheet. Looking ahead to the remainder of 2016, and beyond, we believe the positive underlying fundamentals driving the increase in mobile data and the resulting need for continued network investments remain strong, as evidenced by our increased full year 2016 Outlook and our long-term goal of achieving 6% to 7% annual growth in dividend per share. Our confidence in delivering this level of growth is underpinned by our long-term, high quality tenant leases that represent $20 billion in future contracted rent payments and the attractive value proposition that we offer to the wireless carriers. As a shared wireless infrastructure provider, Crown Castle provides the wireless carriers with quick and cost-effective access to wireless infrastructure as they seek to upgrade and enhance their networks to meet increasing consumer demand for mobile data.”

Crown Castle said it is conducting an executive search for the CFO to succeed Brown, a Certified Public Accountant. Brown was appointed Senior Vice President, CFO and Treasurer of the Company effective July, 2008. He was appointed Treasurer of the Company in May, 2004, and served as Vice President of Finance of the Company from August, 2001, until his appointment as CFO. Prior to that time and since joining the Company in August of 1999, Brown served in a number of positions in corporate development and corporate finance.

January 28, 2016 |

Sprint Won’t ‘Rip and Replace’ Towers

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After releasing fiscal third quarter results yesterday, Sprint management acknowledged it has no plans to undo – or “rip and replace” as it is being called — its extensive network building that began in earnest in 2013. But it was also no surprise that the company is focused on a strategy to find less expensive alternatives to network improvements. The company said it would explore new, lower cost possibilities as current lease contracts unwind. Most master lease agreements with American Tower Corp., Crown Castle and SBA Communications continue through 2016.

“We are focused on densification, without jeopardizing the customer network,” Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said. “We’ll look at towers, rooftops, and monopoles and then choose the most efficient way to plan. Everything will make the network more dense. By no means is this rip and replace.”

Claure said Sprint will be “very opportunistic in optimizing antennae on lower cost infrastructure [such as] macro sites and public sites for similar or better performance at lower cost,” according to Computer World.

The company is “well aware” of its existing contractual arrangements with tower companies, which usually last five to seven years, Computer World noted. “We’re not exiting existing leases today,” Chief Technology Officer John Saw said Sprint is he added. “We’ll have strategic relationships with tower companies for many years to come and will continue to be a strategic partner.”

January 27, 2016 |

Sprint’s Future Growth Likely to Focus On Small Cells, Not Towers

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While the East Coast continues to shovel out of an historic snow storm, Wall Street and the Tower Industry will be looking for Sprint to shovel out of its own special storm that hit it, and subsequently tower companies, when San Francisco-based tech news publisher Re/code printed a January 15 article that doomed Spring’s future relationship with towers companies. According to Re/code, Sprint, intended to move its “radio equipment” off commercial towers owned chiefly by American Tower Co., Crown Castle and SBA Communications and reaffix to “government-owned towers” as part of a $1 billion cost-cutting measure. Industry eyebrows immediately raised about how logical that scheme was, but the damage was done. (Sprint was never directly quoted in the Re/code article but a Sprint spokesman did tell Inside Towers “we are not commenting” on the article.) Sprint and tower company shares spent the ensuing week auguring into the earth. Sprint quickly moved up the date to release its third fiscal quarter results (7:30 am ET this morning) and its management team hosts a conference call an hour later. It’s an opportunity for the nation’s fourth largest carrier to right its ship.

“We are looking for greater clarity on its small cell network plans and little more granularity on promotional plans, subscriber growth and strategies,” Ethan Lacy with New/ Street Research told Inside Towers yesterday afternoon. “We’d like an update on cost-cutting.”

And so would the folks that own and operate towers that Sprint has contracted with since there has been nothing but utter confusion since the story appeared. New/Street’s telecom team isn’t buying it. Lacy said for Sprint to “rip and replace” all of the upgrades and new equipment it added to its network in 2013 and 2014 doesn’t add up. In fact, “we think it’s the opposite. Sprint spent a considerable amount of time and money and they are not going back and tearing it up,” Lacy told Inside Towers. He said New/Street is convinced that the Re/code “misinterpreted” how the company planned to save in the future by relying more on an expanding small cell and DAS network.

January 26, 2016 |

Analyst: Tower Credit Has Been ‘Well Received’

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In his latest Telecom Newsletter for investors, EvercoreISI telecom analyst Jonathan Schildkraut late Friday reported his team had taken a closer look at recent debt transactions in the towers space. “Against a backdrop of potentially rising interest rates, we find two tower debt transactions that were well received by the credit markets. American Tower Company raised $1.25B of senior unsecured notes and saw favorable interest rates,” wrote Schildkraut. “Additionally, Crown Castle International completed a new $5.5B senior unsecured credit facility to replace its existing senior secured credit facility. With the big transition to unsecured debt, Moody’s upgraded Crown Castle’s senior unsecured credit rating two notches, from Ba3 to Ba1. We view the American Tower’s pricing and Crown Castle’s upgrade as confirmation that the debt markets remain favorable for tower company credit.”

The analyst said he believes American Tower will use the proceeds of its notes sale to fund its recently announced acquisition of Indian tower operator Viom, a deal expected to close by mid-year.

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January 25, 2016 |

Tower Industry Plans, Prepares for Mid-Atlantic Snowstorm

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WASHINGTON, DC — By midday yesterday, an estimated 80 million Americans along the mid-Atlantic coast from Virginia to New York were scrambling to prepare for National Weather Service-forecasted storm expected to last 36 hours over Friday and Saturday. It could dump two feet or more of snow and bring single-digit temperatures and howling winds. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, who was already rattled by the Wednesday evening snow “dusting” that covered city streets with an inch of ice causing hundreds of accidents, may have gotten ahead of herself by noon when she told NPR the coming snow was already “an historic storm” as her planners prepared the city. Even local electric company PEPCO robo-called customers to warn them to “prepare for the storm, report outages and stay clear of downed wires and stay clear of working repair crews.”

But down in Boca Raton, FL. where it was 71 degrees and partly cloudy on Thursday afternoon, Bernard Borghei was calm and collected.  As head of operations for Vertical Bridge, the fast growing owner/manager of more than 42,000 tower sites, he’d already addressed the snowstorm and any other upcoming natural disasters that haven’t made it to the radar screen yet. “We have a procedure plan in place and the first thing is ‘safety first,’” Borghei told Inside Towers. He then clicked off the plan’s points with the precision of a U.S. Marine Corps Drill Instructor, each step of the logistical plan considered. “We tell our people not to go into the site if there is any possibility of danger. If equipment has fallen down, we first contact local authorities – police and fire – and send out our maintenance vendors who will then tell us when the area can be accessed. We also contact the landlord” when there is one. Vertical Bridge also has contracts with snow removal vendors who clear the road to the site whenever a few inches fall so maintenance and repair teams have safe passage to towers, transmitters and generators. And, added Borghei, all tower sites are prepped at the beginning of the season – storm, rain, hurricane, etc. – so generators will work when needed.

When storms strike towers there are almost always some sort of failure. A power failure or a lighting failure. From his two monitoring posts in San Antonio and Austin, Remote Monitoring Services’ Art Stone knows about it almost immediately. “We’ve got redundant phone lines and redundant Internet from both of our facilities to the sites. And with the on-coming mid-Atlantic storm just hours away, Stone is confident that there will be power and lighting outages. There always are, he tells Inside Towers, from snowstorms, thunderstorms and high winds. But the Texas company is always watching to make sure the towers’ lights are bright and the power is on. He adds, “It’s just about impossible to knock out our monitoring.” And that’s good because tower owners whose sticks 200 feet and higher must be lit and if the lights go out, the Federal Aviation Administration must be notified within 30 minutes so brave, low flying pilots flying in the area are aware.

Stone estimates Remote Monitoring Services watches roughly 100 towers that are 200 feet and taller in the mid-Atlantic where snow is expected and he figures there are roughly another 1,000 towers that tall in the region. Of course, there are thousands of towers of various heights in the region that could be affected this weekend.

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January 22, 2016 |
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