Tower News

    Crown Castle Pays $461M For Tower Development Corp.

    The Houston tower giant has paid Berkshire Partners $461 million cash for the 336 towers it owns and operates in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Crown Castle said Friday the towers have an average tenancy of about two carriers per tower.

    The acquisition of Tower Development Corp. should add $25 million to $27 million to Crown Castle’s site rental gross margin in the first full year of ownership and be immediately accretive to Adjusted Funds from Operations per share, Crown Castle said. The buy said it funded the acquisition with available cash, including cash on hand, cash from borrowings under its revolving credit facility and cash from the sale of approximately 3.5 million net shares of common stock at an average price of $85.52 per share year-to-date.

    “Our acquisition of TDC is another successful milestone in our long-term relationship with Berkshire Partners,” said Crown Castle President/CEO Ben Moreland. “The TDC acquisition represents an attractive and accretive investment opportunity that further enhances Crown Castle’s portfolio of wireless infrastructure.”

    It is unclear if TDC President Ross M. Jones or any other of the current members of the management team of the privately-held tower operator will convey to Crown Castle. On its website, parent company and seller, Boston-based Berkshire Partners, said “Our investment team brings a wide range of relevant professional backgrounds to the Berkshire table. We have been general managers, consultants, turnaround artists and commercial and investment bankers. This diversity of backgrounds has been further strengthened by the knowledge gained through investing together over several business cycles.”

    The company does not appear to be run by a raucous bunch. Berkshire’s corporate profile boasts a steady-as-she-goes approach to business. “The original Berkshire team—which came together in the mid-1980s—has expanded significantly as our capital base and investment scope have grown. We note proudly that, except in the case of retirement, no partner has left the firm in its three decades of operation.”

    The deal was announced after the closing bell on Wall Street Friday. Shares of Crown Castle (NYSE: CCI) closed up $1.28 or 1.48 percent at $88.05.

    Anchorage-Based GCI To Sell Tower Division

    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.”

    5G Gets Its Push

    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.

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

    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 “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, 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.”

    Florida Town Considers Tower Up to 135’

    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 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.”

    Crown Castle Results Welcomed on Wall Street

    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.”

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

    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.

    Sprint Won’t ‘Rip and Replace’ Towers

    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.”

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

    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.

    Analyst: Tower Credit Has Been ‘Well Received’

    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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    Tower Industry Plans, Prepares for Mid-Atlantic Snowstorm

    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.


    Sweetwater, FL Residents Thrilled Over Proposed 130’ Tower

    It’s not unusual for neighbors near the site of a proposed tower to get organized and get vocal about the possibility of a new structure being built near their homes. But it is a rare day when all the gusto is IN SUPPORT of erecting a 130-foot tower. “We are thrilled that the neighbors are supporting this,” said Attorney Lauralee Westine, who is representing tower builder Florida Tower Partners LLC.  In fact, she told the Orlando Sentinel it is “a unique situation” that residents of Sweetwater support the proposal.

    Just last month Inside Towers told you about another nearby tower installed at First Baptist Church of Sweetwater that greatly improved what was very poor or nonexistent wireless coverage. So this additional structure is expected to ratchet up coverage in a neighborhood of million-dollar homes, the type of neighborhood where poor cell reception is just not acceptable. But first the Seminole County Board of Adjustment has to approve the measure at its January 25 meeting.

    Jan Chamberlin, president of the Sweetwater Club Homeowner’s Association, described the cell service around her home to the Orlando Sentinel, “It’s horrendous. Most of the residents here struggle with poor cell service. … And today, most people call you on your cell phone.” Residents in the subdivision have paid as much as $250 to install signal boosters in their homes.

    Vertical Bridge Adds 250 Wireless Sites

    Vertical Bridge will manage and market the wireless deployment sites at 250 Welltower Inc.-owned medical buildings in a deal announced yesterday. The Boca Raton, FL-based Vertical Bridge is the nation’s largest private owner and manager of wireless communication infrastructure with a portfolio of more than 42,000 owned and/or managed billboard, tower, roof, utility attachment and other type sites.

    “The attractive Welltower sites offer numerous possibilities for small cells, macro sites, rooftop installations and some possible tower opportunities,” said Alex Gellman, Chief Executive Officer of Vertical Bridge. “We admire their investment and portfolio strategy, and feel fortunate to partner with them to enhance wireless communication infrastructure in the areas surrounding their properties. We continue to seek opportunities to expand our portfolio, and to help our partners leverage their assets while meeting the evolving needs of today’s mobile, digital and social media consumers.”

    Vertical Bridge began entering into similar management and marketing deals in January 2015 and has partnership agreements with leading media and real estate companies including Hudson Pacific, Love’s, iHeartMedia, Inc., Clear Channel Outdoor Americas, Townsquare Media, CiG Wireless Corp., U.S. Cellular and Nsight Tower Holdings, LLC. The locations are geographically dispersed across urban, suburban, traffic corridor and rural areas to enable capacity increases for mobile services and enhance the user experience. Financial details were not released.

    Reality Could Slow A Sprint From Towers

    Sprint’s news that it could be moving radio equipment from towers owned by American Tower and Crown Castle – and SBA Communications – to less expensive structures and networks continued to percolate yesterday, spawning a variety of reactions by the industry. One telecom analyst well versed with the tower told investors that “we would need to hear more details here because we would (quickly) point out that Sprint still has multi-year contracts in place with each of these tower companies.” For instance, noted the analyst, Crown Castle has another six-to-seven years on its current master agreement with the Japanese-owned, Kansas City carrier, and American Tower Corp. has five years left.

    The analyst also pointed out that Sprint has made no secret that it wants to reduce its dependence on the large telecom incumbents – AT&T and Verizon – for $1 billion annually for backhaul fees. After all, Sprint has nearly $34 billion in long-term debt and hasn’t seen a quarterly profit in a decade. Bottom Line? “While we need to hear from Sprint on this issue, this plan is in line” with the company’s previous guidance with Wall Street to “cut costs.” It’s just a “disruptive” model to tower companies. “Sprint’s plan is not for the faint of heart. Sprint needs to be solely focused on avoiding mistakes of the past, where network overhauls caused major disruptions in the network’s performance,” advised the analyst. Sprint has said it’ll make use of its microwave technology for backhaul which “isn’t popular stateside, but it does offer better capacity and is more cost efficient in some cases,” Motley Fool noted on Sunday. “But the challenge is that revamping network infrastructure is a massive project, and almost always entails service disruptions during equipment transitions. In the long term, the goal is an overall improvement in performance and cost structure, but in the short term, disruptions don’t help consumer perceptions about the network’s performance.”

    Sprint To Sprint From American, Crown-Owned Towers

    Tower giants American Tower and Crown Castle could be the latest victims of Sprint’s six straight years of lousy revenues if the carrier goes through with a plan to move to government-owned towers as reported Friday afternoon. San Francisco-based Re/code reported Sprint’s latest “radical overall” plans for its cellular network have been finalized and call for the nation’s fourth-largest carrier to move its radio equipment off towers owned by American Tower and Crown Castle to government-owned structures. The savings could be as much as $1 billion, reported Re/code, as tower costs are a significant portion of the carrier’s capital expenses. Sprint also pays about $1 billion annually to AT&T and Verizon to carry its customers’ wireless calls from towers to landlines, known as “backhaul” and seeks to reduce those payments. The new plan, reports Re/code, would instead use microwave technology for this purpose, an approach previously used by Clearwire, which Sprint acquired in 2012.

    But the mere notion that a government-owned tower could be less expensive raised eyebrows from one Georgia-based tower owner. He told Inside Towers, “I’m not sure that’s true government towers have cheaper rent. The county here, in an effort to keep tenants off their tower, starts at $5,000 for a single bay translator.”

    For months, Kansas City-based Sprint has talked publicly about its overall plan to trim $2 billion from its expenses. Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said he would like to make the cuts by January 30 to allow employees to take advantage of a more generous severance plan that is being ended. Re/code sources said the 117-year-old Sprint plans to make significant numbers of the cuts on January 22. But beyond axing employees mostly in its retail division, no firm whacks to its structural and physical existence have been officially announced. Re/Code said the process of moving to lesser expensive towers “could begin as soon as June or July.”

    Sprint spokesman Dave Tovar told Inside Towers the company was not commenting on the Re/code story. Inside Towers’ calls and emails to spokesman at American Tower and Crown Castle were not returned Friday. A woman at Sprint headquarters said spokesman David Tovar “is in a meeting.” At press time, none of the three companies had posted a response on their corporate websites.

    FCC Auction Not Enough Spectrum, Says Sprint CFO

    65a0a7a4-2a5f-4675-86c2-6bc7ea2c4ec0Months ago Sprint made it clear it wasn’t going to bid in the 600MHZ spectrum auction when the FCC oversees the long-awaited sale. And last week the company reiterated its position on standing on the sidelines, according to

    “This auction is at best going to give a block of 2x10MHz spectrum,” Sprint CFO Tarek Robbiati said at the Citi 2016 Internet, Media and Telecommunications Conference. “For a really, really high-speed network you need at least 2x20MHz of contiguous spectrum.”

    Broadcasters and their strong lobbying arm, the NAB, have continued to lean on the FCC to expand its 39-month window for conversion after TV outlets sell their spectrum, pressing for up to five years. The request for more time has reached carriers as Robbiati suggested, the spectrum won’t be available for use until 2021, reported It added that AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless also seem lukewarm on the 600MHz auction. All of which has led T-Mobile US Inc. ‘s CEO, John Legere, to suggest that his carrier will be a winner in the upcoming spring auction.

    Robbiati also said Sprint will beef up its capacity by focusing on adding small cells, femtocells and distributed antenna systems (DAS), the CFO says.
    “What we’re really working on is picking out the partners that we work with,” Robbiati says. He says that there are plenty of alternative vendors at CES that Sprint could talk to,” reported.

    FCC Chairman: Broadband Not Being Deployed Fast Enough

    In a draft statement on the 2016 Broadband Progress Report, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is circulating a draft of his own thoughts on whether broadband is being deployed to all Americans in a “reasonable and timely fashion.” It is clear that he believes there’s room for improvement. The draft will be a talking point for the FCC’s January 28 open, public meeting and could be a starter for some fireworks.

    “While the nation continues to make progress in broadband deployment, advanced telecommunications capability is not being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion to all Americans,” Wheeler concludes. He said approximately 34 million Americans still have access to fixed broadband at the FCC’s benchmark speed of 25 Mbps for downloads, 3 Mbps for uploads.

    Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 4.45.58 PM

    The persistent urban-rural digital divide has left 39 percent of the rural population without access to fixed broadband and by comparison, only 4 percent living in urban areas lack access and 10 percent lack access nationwide. Wheeler said 41 percent of Tribal Lands residents lack access. He said 41 percent of schools have not met the FCC’s short-term goal of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students/staff and these schools educate 47 percent of the nation’s students. Only 9 percent of schools have fiber connections capable of meeting the FCC’s long-term goal of 1 Gbps per 1,000 students.

    Wheeler added that Internationally, the U.S. continues to lag behind a number of other developed nations, ranking 16th out of 34 countries.

    Equity Player Forges J5 Out of Cortel, TowerCom Technologies

    Ridgemont Equity Partners, a Dallas-based middle market buyout and growth equity player, has created J5 Infrastructure Partners, a new telecommunications infrastructure service company by combining Cortel Inc and TowerCom Technologies LLC. The latter two wireless deployment operations were among industry leaders in the western United States. The newly formed company will be headquartered in Orange County, CA. and led by industry veteran, Jerry Elliott, as CEO.

    Operating as J5, the new entity expects to perform site acquisition, leasing, permitting, zoning, structural engineering, utility coordination and equipment installation services directly to all four of the top wireless carriers in the U.S. as well as tower and other infrastructure owners and state and local governments, the company said. Its growth strategy includes “the incorporation of additional services to form a broader offering to both wireless and wireline network operators and the densification of its presence in the western region of the U.S. Through both organic growth and selective acquisition, the Company will increase its scope, scale and local knowledge expertise to better serve its customers.”

    Elliott, who has had extensive operational expertise through past leadership roles at Leap/Cricket Wireless, Global Signal and Frontier Communications, said he’s “very pleased to be partnering with Ridgemont, SR Capital and existing management to form J5. There is a tremendous opportunity for growth in telecom infrastructure services and we intend to leverage the deep subject matter knowledge of the great teams at Cortel and TowerCom to identify new complementary services and markets.” Beginning in 2009, Elliott also served in a number of executive roles at the Weather Channel, including Chief Administrative Officer and Chief Financial Officer.

    AT&T Rings In New Year With New Towers

    New cell sites in Delray Beach and Wellington, FL are improving AT&T service in South Florida. AT&T announced the completion of the installations on Wednesday. The locations are among four the carrier AT&T built in December between Broward and Palm Beach counties. The sites were built with the intention of boosting performance high-density areas, the Palm Beach Post reported.

    In Delray Beach, the site is near business park areas and the Boca Country Club. In Wellington, the site was installed at the intersection of Greenview Shores Boulevard and Wellington Trace.

    AT&T has recently modified and upgraded over 70 cell sites in South Florida, aiming to provide a huge boost to its profits. “We work hard to deliver a great network experience for our customers where they live, work and play,” AT&T Florida President, Joe York, said. “The investment we’re making here in South Florida is one of the reasons AT&T has the nation’s most reliable LTE network.”

    Hodge Structural Engineers, Consolidated Engineers, Inc. To Merge

    The death of veteran engineer Ernie Jones in a tower elevator October 21, 2015, has resulted in the merger of his company, Consolidated Engineers, Inc. of Lynnville, IN, with Hodge Structural engineers in Evansville, some 34 miles southwest of Lynnville. CEO Cray Hodge made the announcement on December 31, and yesterday told Inside Towers “Both entities will continue to operate under their current names. Consolidated Engineers will be an unincorporated division of Hodge Structural Engineers. We will gradually change Consolidated Engineers over to Hodge Structural Engineers.”

    The merger will become effective in the near future. “Both parties have reached an agreement on the overall terms of the transaction, and the closing will be completed as soon as possible,” Hodge said, adding “the terms of the transaction will remain confidential by mutual agreement of the parties involved.”

    “Ernie was an incredible man and led many of the innovations and standards within the tower industry. We are merging to continue his legacy and provide an expanded level of expertise and capabilities to tower owners and operators,” Hodge said. “Dave Davies and Keith Barnett will remain on board and we intend to have a seamless transition.”

    Hodge told Inside Towers, “Consolidated had three employees, including Ernie. Hodge Structural Engineers has three licensed engineers on staff.  We hold professional engineering licensure in 48 states and our professional staff has over twenty years’ experience in the analysis and design of antenna towers. HSE also has considerable expertise in engineering for commercial and special structures.”

    Jones, a highly regarded engineer and a frequent expert consultant to NATE and to NAB on engineering and safety issues, died while working on KOCO-TV/Oklahoma City, OK’s 1,500 foot tower. He died after the tower elevator began making a descent before he had unhooked his safety lanyard from the tower. Jones was alone at the time of the accident, having returned to the top apparently after discovering he was missing some important data for a report.

    Spectrum Auction to Spark Crew Shortage

    As the late-March FCC-orchestrated spectrum auction approaches, speculation grows that too-few tower crews will be available to make broadcasters’ TV transitions smoothly and within the three-year window prescribed by the Commission. In November, the NAB released a study it commissioned Digital Tech Consulting to perform titled “Broadcast Spectrum Repacking Timeline, Resource and Cost Analysis Study.” The 60-page report detailed possible obstructions, key of which was lack of human resources to do the heavy lifting.

    While no one knows for sure exactly how many broadcasters will move or sell their spectrum, as many as 1,200 could and that would immediately initiate a huge demand for tower teams. During the holiday break, Tom Silliman, president and CEO at antenna manufacturer ERI (and a tower rigger himself), told TV Technology the number of qualified crews is about the same as it was prior to the DTV transition in 2009.

    “I’d say that there are around 15 qualified crews,” said Silliman. “If a station gets repacked they’re probably going to need an auxiliary antenna and reinforcing for the tower, and that takes time; however, the real problem is that people aren’t going to start ordering antennas until next summer and it will be a year before things start going out into the field. Immediately you’ve lost one of the three years due to the turnaround. I told the FCC this myself: ‘You’re going to need at least five years.’

    “Another factor is that the FCC has crippled the TV transmission supply side. There are fewer antenna-manufacturing companies than there were a few years ago because of the FCC television ‘freeze.’ We dropped literally half of our capacity. We didn’t lose any of our capability; we just lost a lot of our depth. Where we needed technology we’ve kept people; but where we could afford to let people go, we did.”

    And the concerns ripple through the entire industry. Keith L. Pelletier, vice president and general manager of antenna manufacturer Dielectric told TV Technology he’s also concerned about industry readiness and said the range of preparedness “varies.” He added, “Dielectric is preparing for the repack, but the proposed timeline is going to be a real challenge. We’re being aggressive with the steps we can take to be ready. You need to be aware too that there are a limited number of qualified structural engineers and tower crews. It is going to be a problem, especially considering weather, [in] getting the repack done in the extremely short timeframe while maintaining safety standards.”

    And then there is the issue of safety.

    NATE Executive Director Todd Schlekeway told the publication, “The timeline is a concern to us, especially the 36-month window. In our industry after the digital conversion there hasn’t been much work from a contractor’s perspective in that space. The workforce migrated over to the wireless and cell tower side, and all the new workers in the last several years are familiar with [only] that type of work. You start ramping up broadcast again and there could definitely be a shortage of contractors qualified to do work, and broadcast towers are a whole different animal than cell towers. We’re concerned about safety. Given the nature of the work and [lack of] familiarity with working on broadcast structures… and the timeline, [there is] a concern from a safety perspective and we’ve sent correspondence to the FCC that said as much. We’re going to be watching things very closely.”

    Editor’s Note: NAB Executive Vice President, Communications Dennis Wharton confirms for Inside Towers that the spectrum repack window is currently 39 months. “We are urging Congress/FCC to change that because we believe that’s an unrealistic target given the complexity of the transition, the lack of adequate tower crews, the monumental task of moving 1,000 TV stations or more to a new TV channel, etc.,” Wharton added.

    Appeals Court Backs FCC on Tower Siting

    In what could be seen as a landmark decision that could effectively speed the decision-making process for approving tower construction in America, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on Friday agreed with the FCC’s directive to deploy wireless facilities by preventing intervention by local authorities.

    Although the FCC rule had won the support of CTIA and PCIA-The Wireless Infrastructure Association, Montgomery County, MD and other counties in March filed suit against the FCC to prevent the commission from carrying out its order and call the new tower siting rule unconstitutional, arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion and otherwise illegal,” reported John Eggerton in Broadcasting & Cable.

    The FCC, which has been an unabashed supporter of the national build-out of the wireless infrastructure, voted unanimously in October 2014 to make it easier to deploy wireless infrastructure.

    Former FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, now president and CEO of PCIA – The Wireless Infrastructure Association, said Friday following the ruling that the FCC was within its legal authority to interpret legal terms designed to streamline deployment of wireless broadband.

    “We are thrilled with the outcome of this case because it will promote the widespread deployment of mobile broadband in Montgomery County and other communities around the country. The wireless infrastructure industry wants to reduce or eliminate, whenever possible, unreasonable obstacles to all communities tapping into the extraordinary economic and technological potential of wireless broadband. We were proud to partner with CTIA to make this victory possible.  We look forward to our continued work with municipalities to meet their constituents’ growing demand for wireless data. PCIA has strongly supported the Infrastructure Order and its guidelines for implementation, and congratulate the FCC on this important win in its laudable efforts aimed at increasing broadband deployment.”

    The CTIA was also “pleased by the court’s decision.” It added, “From Congress to the FCC to local governments, policymakers recognize the vital role that government can and should play in expediting the deployment of broadband networks.” The group said it  is “proud to have partnered with municipal representatives to educate local jurisdictions about streamlined siting processes, and to have developed a model ordinance and checklist for use by local zoning authorities.” CTIA said it believes that the court’s decision “will bring greater certainty and uniformity to broadband permitting decisions, bolstering the economic and social benefits that broadband brings to communities across the nation.”

    Springs Fire District Cell Tower Sparks Controversy

    Inside Towers on Tuesday reported how the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals on Long Island, NY pointedly disagreed with its Springs Fire District over an already erected 150-foot communications tower. While none of the equipment had been put on the tower early last week when the two sides met, the Zoning Board voted 4-1 to revoke the tower permits issued in 2014, rejecting the fire district’s argument that the tower is desperately needed at its Fort Pond Boulevard property. And it began making noise that the freshly-built structure might have to come down.

    This past weekend, crews mounted antennas on the tower, urged by District Board of Commissioners Chairman Pat Glennon. Glennon told that the tower is a communications tower and that the antennas are needed to improve emergency systems. The zoning board had argued the permit was issued in error by town building instructors and that the fire district as a municipal entity must “submit its application for further consideration by the town to determine if the project warrants exemption from zoning.” For now, Glennon urged crews to proceed, as “commissioners and their attorneys discuss how to proceed following Tuesday’s revocation of the tower’s building permits,” reports

    Carl Irace, attorney for the Springs Fire District, argued that the ruling was not filed in the Town Clerk’s office in time (Monday morning), so the permit was valid when the crews came to begin installing wiring and power supply systems. The antennas were mounted on the 150-foot monopole Monday. He called the short window a “coincidence of logistics” that the antennas were installed after the ruling, but before the filing. He told that the district “has been working on the assumption that they are exempt from town zoning controls.” Irace also countered that the fire district is an independent municipality exempt from the previously mentioned zoning requirements.

    Neighbors also have gotten in on the conflict, arguing that there was no public notice given; they found out about the pole six months after the building permits were issued and the tower was erected. However, the district claims that the tower was discussed “at more than a dozen public meetings in 2013, 2014 and 2015, according to minutes.” Some of the zoning board says that the neighbors weren’t notified before the meetings, however, so they have an argument.

    Now, the decision is possibly in the court’s or the planning board’s hands, another decision that still is as up in the air as the tower itself. Glennon told that the tower antennas, which may be operational at the end of December barring any further objection, will “increase the range of department VHF radios as well as boost the strength of signals to Springs Fire Department members’ emergency pagers.”

    New 150’ Tower May Be Coming Down In East Hampton, NY

    The tower behind a firehouse in the swanky neighborhood of famous writers on Long Island, NY, just went up last spring. Not all the equipment has been installed, but now it may have to come down. The Springs Fire District’s cell phone tower permit was revoked last week by the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals by a vote of 4 to 1.The zoning board said Elite Towers, the company that leased the land for the 150-foot tower, misled the SFD commissioners in suggesting the district was exempt from local zoning review, said the East Hampton Star.

    The members who voted to revoke the permit, made it clear that they were not opposed to the pole per se, but wanted it reviewed through the proper channels. The tower was put up in April, but the communications equipment intended to go on it has not been installed. Objections to the tower were widespread when it went up, leading to an appeal of a building permit issued by the Building Department.

    Inside Towers told you about the October 6 appeal hearing when Pat Glennon, chairman of the board of fire commissioners, told the East Hampton Star that in addition to the tower’s use for cell phone communications, it was essential that new equipment be installed for the fire department, because there are numerous dead spots where volunteers’ pagers don’t work. He also said the commissioners had inquired with the town Planning Department, as well as its legal team and had been given a verbal okay to put up the tower based on a 2004 determination involving the Amagansett Fire Department. The zoning board found that state case law cites fire districts and fire companies as, generally speaking, being under the purview of local zoning laws. “I think they were led awry,” a zoning board member said of the fire commissioners.

    Selingsgrove, PA Board Postpones Controversial Hearing

    a3c78e8e-03db-41d3-8a46-8e7a5a91a983Just hours before last night’s hearing, tower builder Horvath Communications asked Zoning Hearing Board to postpone the event because a key witness was unavailable to testify, according to the Daily Item. Horvath is seeking a special-use variance to erect a controversial 80-foot communications tower near the Selinsgrove Community Pool. The board granted the request and reset the hearing for January 7, 2016. According to the Daily Item, the delay was requested by Horvath Communications due to a key witness being unavailable. The hearing before the borough’s Zoning Hearing Board is over a special-use variance.

    The proposed tower has been hotly contested by many of the residents of Selingsgrove, a small Pennsylvania town about 48 miles north of Harrisburg and nestled alongside the Susquehanna River.  As Inside Towers reported on November 11, Selinsgrove Area Recreation Inc. stands to gain $250,000 over the next 29 years, Horvath’s plan to construct a monopole tower to be used by Limitless Wireless was opposed by a petition signed by 800 residents who were concerned about the tower’s impact on property values and potential health risks from radiation exposure. At a previous meeting on November 5, three hours of testimony led the board to call for a second meeting in December. In addition to Horvath’s key witness, both sides have prepared additional witnesses to testify at the next meeting on January 7.


    Spectrum Incentive Auction Gets Wings Today

    Officially it’s called the House Subcommittee of Communications and Technology and chaired by former broadcast owner Rep. Greg Walden (R-WA) and it’s set to markup bipartisan legislation that aims to promote increased wireless broadband build out. H.R. 1641 was introduced March 26 and gives the FCC the gusto to move ahead with the planned March 26, 2016, airwaves auction and repurpose their commercial use. The 13-page bill also establishes in the Treasury a Federal Spectrum Incentive Fund to be administered by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in consultation with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

    “We commend the bipartisan leadership of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology for moving expeditiously in marking up a legislative package that is so integral to America’s economic and technological future,” said the PCIA – The Wireless Infrastructure Association in a statement released late Tuesday afternoon. “Consumer demand for wireless mobile data continues to escalate – with no end in sight. This nation cannot meet that demand and continue to compete in the global marketplace unless we site and deploy greater wireless infrastructure and allocate additional spectrum for wireless communications.”

    “PCIA and the wireless infrastructure industry will continue working closely with Subcommittee Chairman Walden, Ranking Member Eshoo (D-CA), and other members of the subcommittee and their staffs in shaping legislation that will spur job creation in every region of the country and keep America at the forefront of technological innovation.”

    ‘Mobile Data Will Soar Some 700 Percent Over Next Five Years’

    2015-10-14That’s what Jonathan Adelstein, chief executive of PCIA – The Wireless Infrastructure Association, told readers of the Los Angeles Business Journal on Monday in a 550 ­word essay on the future of connectivity in Los Angeles and its impact on the Southern California economy.

    “HetNet” might sound like slang for the basketball hoops at Staples Center, but it’s really about wireless broadband – and much of Southern California’s economic and technological future hinges on it,” Adelstein wrote. “HetNet” refers to “heterogeneous networks” – the many different ways that mobile data can be transmitted via wireless broadband facilities, from towers and other “macro” sites to small cells and other “micro” sites. Small cells and distributed antenna systems, or DAS, are now integral components in the arsenal of every wireless carrier. They’re also uniquely suited to Southern California’s terrain and population density.”

    And noting that the mobile data field has swelled by some 700 percent in the past five years and will swell another 700 percent in the coming five years, Adelstein said massive technology will be required to support these services. “While the bulk of mobile data needs are met by macro sites, smaller cells are increasingly being deployed in highly populated urban areas such as the L.A. Basin.” He added, “The economic impact will be staggering: The Internet of Things is expected to add $1.7 trillion to the global economy and connect more than 50 billion “things” by 2020.” The former FCC commissioner said the onset of 5G is just around the corner and will exert still ­greater demands on wireless broadband infrastructure. “If sufficient wireless infrastructure can be built and upgraded, it will stimulate jobs and growth in every industry in California. It will also significantly strengthen the region’s emergency services in the event of a disaster,” Adelstein said.

    If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out our daily telecom newsletter, Inside Towers.

    Parity For Cablers, FCC Cuts Telecom Pole Rates

    RqmymBBQN4dYfDstXXhkJEjydTi5bcz_JNEZSB6gMyeoxDy2VKwhUXurk5WZkrRdlRm9ZiwrKhP6_irZvx3CSAS5cc12r28v6q7J0YPr-WXueLbG8E0-ObytfgaurdhzluVQLWrt-Kqa3fTVLIirSrECVLTvikKPJWD1OQ=s0-d-e1-ftJust as turkeys were being prepared for the oven last week, the FCC reheated an issue leftover from 2011 when it was petitioned by industry advocates to realign the pole rates telecoms pay utility companies and bring parity to cable companies. Late Tuesday, the commission issued its long awaited, much discussed 44-page decision which effectively reduced telecom rates to what cable providers pay. What’s really behind all of it is the commission’s desire to promote deployment of broadband service nationwide.

    “The 2011 revisions sought to bring the telecom and cable rates into parity,” the FCC said in explaining its new rule. “In the intervening time, we have seen that our revisions did not fully achieve that objective. Today, we take the next logical step in achieving the goals set forth in 2011.” The commission added, “We additionally act to support incentives for deployment of broadband facilities, particularly in rural areas, and to harmonize regulatory treatment between states where the Commission regulates the rates, terms, and conditions for pole attachments and states where such matters are regulated by the state.” The Commission said subjecting cable operators to higher pole attachment rates “merely because they also provide telecommunications services, such as broadband Internet access, could deter investment in states subject to Commission pole regulation, which would undermine the Commission’s broadband deployment policy. By keeping pole attachment rates unified and low, we further our overarching goal to accelerate deployment of broadband by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and promoting competition.”

    Pretty much everyone but the owners of poles  — utility companies – were happy about the FCC moving forward. On Wednesday afternoon, amid the pushing and shoving at Reagan National Airport to get out of Dodge for the long weekend, PCIA – The Wireless Infrastructure Association said, “PCIA is pleased that the FCC has taken steps to ensure a competitive marketplace for broadband services — including wireless broadband — that leverage existing utility infrastructure. The Commission’s action is in keeping with efforts that PCIA is pursuing before state public utility commissions in Arkansas, Washington, and California to revise pole attachment rules and thereby spur the deployment of wireless infrastructure.”

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    AT&T Teams With Ford for LTE Support

    Ford, in partnership with AT&T, last week debuted an LTE-based wireless service called Sync Connect in its cars at the LA Auto Show. Many Fords sold in the U.S. come with WiFi support but this marks the first time LTE support has been offered on Fords, according to The partnership was unveiled on November 17.

    The LTE connectivity will allow drivers and passengers to access the car’s features remotely through apps on a Smartphone. A quick list of abilities includes: the ability to lock the vehicle, start the vehicle, perform a vehicle health check, and find the vehicle location.

    While AT&T has been concentrating on increasing its subscribers, the number of cars a part of their U.S. subscriber base increased by 2.7 million, according to Business Insider. That number makes up nearly half of the connected cars produced by AT&T’s auto partners – GM, Ford, Audi, BMW, Tesla, Nissan, Volvo, and Subaru.

    Currently, AT&T has 5.8 million cars connected to its LTE network.taurus

    Tower Accident Leads to Lawsuits, Tougher Safety

    Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 10.42.50 AMIn Clarksburg, West Virginia, the fatal collapse of the Despard Cell Tower on February 1, 2014, has resulted in four federal lawsuits, and a push to implement more stringent safety guidelines for workers as the maintain towers. According to the West Virginia Record, the lawsuits named SBA Communications Corporation; SBA Towers LLC; SBA Infrastructure LLC; SBA Network Services LLC; FDH Velocitel; FDH Engineering Inc.; FDH Innovation; and FDH Inc. as defendants.

    The first complaint was filed on September 2 in the Harrison Circuit Court, but was then moved to federal court on November 2. The plaintiffs claim SBA and FDH either knew or should have known that the maintenance workers replacing structural supports on the tower did not have sufficient knowledge or understanding of engineering to replace them in a safe manner.

    The plaintiffs claim the cell tower industry has increased too rapidly to maintain proper training and safety for all their workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has recognized an increase in injuries and fatalities at communication tower sites while work is in progress. A final ruling has not been made, but the lawsuits have focused the spotlight on safety regulations.

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