10-K 1 unit-10k_20171231.htm 10-K unit-10k_20171231.htm

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UNITED STATES

SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION

Washington, D.C. 20549

 

FORM 10-K

 

(Mark One)

ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

For the fiscal year ended December 31, 2017

OR

TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934 For the transition period from _____ to _____

Commission File Number 001-36708

 

Uniti Group Inc.

(Exact name of Registrant as specified in its Charter)

 

 

Maryland

46-5230630

( State or other jurisdiction of

incorporation or organization)

(I.R.S. Employer
Identification No.)

10802 Executive Center Drive

Benton Building Suite 300

Little Rock, Arkansas

72211

(Address of principal executive offices)

(Zip Code)

Registrant’s telephone number, including area code: (501) 850-0820

 

Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:

 

Title of each class

Name of each exchange

on which registered

Common Stock, $0.0001 Par Value

The NASDAQ Global Select Market

Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act: None

Indicate by check mark if the Registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act.    YES      NO  

Indicate by check mark if the Registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Act.    YES      NO  

Indicate by check mark whether the Registrant: (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the Registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.    YES      NO  

Indicate by check mark whether the Registrant has submitted electronically and posted on its corporate Web site, if any, every Interactive Data File required to be submitted and posted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§ 232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the Registrant was required to submit and post such files).    YES      NO  

Indicate by check mark if disclosure of delinquent filers pursuant to Item 405 of Regulation S-K (§ 229.405 of this chapter) is not contained herein, and will not be contained, to the best of Registrant’s knowledge, in definitive proxy or information statements incorporated by reference in Part III of this Form 10-K or any amendment to this Form 10-K.  

Indicate by check mark whether the Registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, a smaller reporting company, or emerging growth company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” “smaller reporting company,” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.

 

Large accelerated filer

 

  

Accelerated filer

 

 

 

 

 

Non-accelerated filer

 

  (Do not check if a small reporting company)

  

Smaller reporting company

 

 

 

 

 

Emerging growth company

 

 

If an emerging growth company, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act. 

Indicate by check mark whether the Registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Act).    YES      NO  

The aggregate market value of the voting and non-voting common equity held by non-affiliates of the Registrant, based on the closing price of the shares of common stock on The NASDAQ Stock Market on June 30, 2017, was $3,342,033,490

The number of shares of Registrant’s Common Stock outstanding as of February 23, 2018 was 175,428,468.

DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE

Portions of the Registrant’s definitive proxy statement relating to the 2018 annual meeting of stockholders are incorporated by reference into Part III of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.

 

 

 

 


Table of Contents

Table of Contents

 

 

 

 

 

Page

PART I

 

 

 

 

Item 1.

 

Business

 

5

Item 1A.

 

Risk Factors

 

13

Item 1B.

 

Unresolved Staff Comments

 

19

Item 2.

 

Properties

 

20

Item 3.

 

Legal Proceedings

 

21

Item 4.

 

Mine Safety Disclosures

 

22

 

 

 

 

 

PART II

 

 

 

 

Item 5.

 

Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities

 

23

Item 6.

 

Selected Financial Data

 

25

Item 7.

 

Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations

 

27

Item 7A.

 

Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk

 

46

Item 8.

 

Financial Statements and Supplementary Data

 

48

Item 9.

 

Changes in and Disagreements With Accountants on Accounting and Financial Disclosure

 

99

Item 9A.

 

Controls and Procedures

 

99

Item 9B.

 

Other Information

 

100

 

 

 

 

 

PART III

 

 

 

 

Item 10.

 

Directors, Executive Officers and Corporate Governance

 

101

Item 11.

 

Executive Compensation

 

101

Item 12.

 

Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management and Related Stockholder Matters

 

101

Item 13.

 

Certain Relationships and Related Transactions, and Director Independence

 

102

Item 14.

 

Principal Accounting Fees and Services

 

102

 

 

 

 

 

PART IV

 

 

 

 

Item 15.

 

Exhibits, Financial Statement Schedules

 

103

Item 16.

 

Form 10-K Summary

 

108

 

 

 

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CAUTIONARY STATEMENT REGARDING FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS

 

This Annual Report on Form 10-K includes forward-looking statements as defined under U.S. federal securities law. Forward-looking statements include all statements that are not historical statements of fact and those regarding our intent, belief or expectations, including, but not limited to, statements regarding: our expectations regarding the future growth and demand of the telecommunication industry, future financing plans, business strategies, growth prospects and operating and financial performance; expectations regarding the impact and integration of Hunt Telecommunications, LLC ("Hunt") and Southern Light, LLC ("Southern Light"), including expectations regarding operational synergies with Uniti Towers and Uniti Fiber; expectations regarding settling conversion of our 3% convertible preferred stock in cash upon conversion; expectations regarding the probability of our obligation to pay contingent consideration upon Tower Cloud, Inc.'s ("Tower Cloud") or Hunt's achievement of certain defined operational and financial milestones; expectations regarding future deployment of fiber strand miles and recognition of revenue related thereto; expectations regarding levels of capital expenditures; expectations regarding the deductibility of goodwill for tax purposes; expectations regarding the amortization of intangible assets; expectations regarding the closing of the U.S. TelePacific Holding Corp. (“TPx”) transaction; and expectations regarding the payment of dividends.

 

Words such as "anticipate(s)," "expect(s)," "intend(s)," "plan(s)," "believe(s)," "may," "will," "would," "could," "should," "seek(s)" and similar expressions, or the negative of these terms, are intended to identify such forward-looking statements. These statements are based on management's current expectations and beliefs and are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties that could lead to actual results differing materially from those projected, forecasted or expected. Although we believe that the assumptions underlying the forward-looking statements are reasonable, we can give no assurance that our expectations will be attained. Factors which could have a material adverse effect on our operations and future prospects or which could cause actual results to differ materially from our expectations include, but are not limited to:

 

 

the ability and willingness of our customers to meet and/or perform their obligations under any contractual arrangements entered into with us, including master lease arrangements; 

 

the ability of our customers to comply with laws, rules and regulations in the operation of the assets we lease to them; 

 

the ability and willingness of our customers to renew their leases with us upon their expiration, and the ability to reposition our properties on the same or better terms in the event of nonrenewal or in the event we replace an existing tenant; 

 

our ability to renew, extend or retain our contracts or to obtain new contracts with significant customers (including customers of the businesses that we acquire); 

 

the availability of and our ability to identify suitable acquisition opportunities and our ability to acquire and lease the respective properties on favorable terms or operate and integrate the acquired businesses; 

 

our ability to generate sufficient cash flows to service our outstanding indebtedness; 

 

our ability to access debt and equity capital markets; 

 

the impact on our business or the business of our customers as a result of credit rating downgrades, and fluctuating interest rates; 

 

adverse impacts of litigation or disputes involving us or our customers;

 

our ability to retain our key management personnel; 

 

our ability to maintain our status as a real estate investment trust (“REIT”);

 

changes in the U.S. tax law and other federal, state or local laws, whether or not specific to REITs, including the impact of the recently enacted U.S. tax reform legislation; 

 

covenants in our debt agreements that may limit our operational flexibility; 

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the possibility that we may experience equipment failures, natural disasters, cyber attacks or terrorist attacks for which our insurance may not provide adequate coverage; 

 

the risk that we fail to fully realize the potential benefits of or have difficulty in integrating the companies we acquire; 

 

other risks inherent in the communications industry and in the ownership of communications distribution systems, including potential liability relating to environmental matters and illiquidity of real estate investments; 

 

the risk that the TPx transaction agreements may be modified or terminated prior to expiration or that the conditions to the TPx transaction may not be satisfied; and

 

additional factors discussed in Part I, Item 1A “Risk Factors” and Part II, Item 7 “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” of this Annual Report on Form 10-K, as well as those described from time to time in our future reports filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”).

Forward-looking statements speak only as of the date of this Annual Report. Except in the normal course of our public disclosure obligations, we expressly disclaim any obligation to release publicly any updates or revisions to any forward-looking statements to reflect any change in our expectations or any change in events, conditions or circumstances on which any such statement is based.

 

 

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PART I

Item 1. Business.

The Company

 

Uniti Group Inc. (the “Company”, “Uniti”, “we”, “us” or “our”) was incorporated in the state of Delaware in February 2014 and reorganized in the state of Maryland on September 4, 2014. Uniti is an independent, internally managed real estate investment trust (“REIT”) engaged in the acquisition and construction of mission critical infrastructure in the communications industry. We are principally focused on acquiring and constructing fiber optic broadband networks, wireless communications towers, copper and coaxial broadband networks and data centers.

On April 24, 2015, we were separated and spun-off (the “Spin-Off”) from Windstream Holdings, Inc. (“Windstream Holdings” and together with its subsidiaries, “Windstream”) pursuant to which Windstream contributed certain telecommunications network assets, including fiber and copper networks and other real estate (the “Distribution Systems”) and a small consumer competitive local exchange carrier (“CLEC”) business (the “Consumer CLEC Business”) to Uniti and Uniti issued common stock and indebtedness and paid cash obtained from borrowings under Uniti’s senior credit facilities to Windstream. In connection with the Spin-Off, we entered into a long-term exclusive triple-net lease (the “Master Lease”) with Windstream, pursuant to which we lease the Distribution Systems back to Windstream.

 

Uniti operates as a REIT for U.S. federal income tax purposes. As a REIT, the Company is generally not subject to U.S. federal income taxes on income generated by its REIT operations, which includes income derived from the Master Lease.  We have elected to treat the subsidiaries through which we operate Uniti Fiber and Consumer CLEC Business as taxable REIT subsidiaries (“TRSs”).  TRSs enable us to engage in activities that do not result in income that would be qualifying income for a REIT.  Our TRSs are subject to U.S. federal, state and local corporate income taxes.

 

The Company operates through a customary up-REIT structure, pursuant to which we hold substantially all of our assets through a partnership, Uniti Group LP, a Delaware limited partnership (the “Operating Partnership”), that we control as general partner. The only significant difference between the financial position and results of operations of the Operating Partnership and its subsidiaries compared to the consolidated financial position and consolidated results of operations of Uniti is that the results for the Operating Partnership and its subsidiaries do not include the Consumer CLEC Business, which is operated through Talk America Services, LLC (“Talk America”), a direct, wholly-owned subsidiary of Uniti. This structure is intended to facilitate future acquisition opportunities by providing the Company with the ability to use common units of the Operating Partnership as a tax-efficient acquisition currency. As of December 31, 2017, we are the sole general partner of the Operating Partnership and own approximately 97.7% of the partnership interests in the Operating Partnership.

 

For the year ended December 31, 2017, we had revenues of $916.0 million, net loss attributable to common shareholders of $16.6 million, Funds From Operations (“FFO”) of $352.5 million and Adjusted Funds From Operations (“AFFO”) of $424.8 million. Both FFO and AFFO are non-GAAP financial measures, which we use to analyze our results. Refer to Part II, Item 7 Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations, of this Annual Report for additional information regarding these non-GAAP measures. As of December 31, 2017, we managed our operations in four reportable business segments, which are described in more detail in Note 13 to our consolidated financial statements contained in Part II, Item 8 Financial Statements and Supplementary Data.

 

Business

 

We are an independent, internally-managed REIT engaged in the acquisition and construction of mission critical infrastructure in the communications industry. We manage our operations in four separate lines of business: Uniti Fiber, Uniti Towers, Uniti Leasing and Talk America.

 

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Uniti Fiber

 

Uniti Fiber is a leading provider of infrastructure solutions, including cell site backhaul and small cell for wireless operators and Ethernet, wavelengths and dark fiber for telecommunications carriers and enterprises. With Uniti Fiber, our goal is to capitalize on the rising demand by carriers and enterprises for dark fiber, establish ourselves as a proven small-cell systems provider and leverage wholesale enterprise opportunities as well as opportunities through the School and Libraries Program (commonly referred to as E-Rate) administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company. We believe Uniti Fiber is the mission-critical focal point in the modern communications infrastructure industry and will accelerate our growth and diversification strategy and expand our relationships with high quality national and international wireless carriers.  

 

On July 3, 2017, we acquired Southern Light and Hunt. Southern Light is a provider of data transport services along the Gulf Coast region serving twelve attractive Tier II and Tier III markets across Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, and Hunt is a provider of data transport to K-12 schools and government agencies with a dense fiber network in Louisiana.  These acquisitions allow us to scale our products and capacity with wireless carriers, enterprise, wholesale, and E-Rate customers across a significantly expanded Uniti Fiber network.

 

At December 31, 2017, Uniti Fiber’s revenues under contract were over $1.3 billion, with a network consisting of 1.4 million strand miles of fiber and approximately 16,750 customer connections.  Results for Uniti Fiber are reported in our consolidated financial statements in our Fiber Infrastructure business segment.

 

Uniti Towers

 

The strategy of Uniti Towers is to acquire and construct tower and tower-related real estate in the United States and Latin America. We are focused on markets with strong macroeconomic fundamentals, politically stable environments and strong underlying communications growth trends. Specifically, our focus is on markets where numerous investment grade carriers operate and there is strong communications infrastructure potential due to underpenetrated 5G, 4G or even 3G technology.  Uniti Towers also provides build-to-suit opportunities using customized master lease agreements designed for long-term carrier partnerships. We believe that our strategy of focusing on fiber and towers in the United States and Latin America through Uniti Fiber and Uniti Towers is highly synergistic and will drive incremental growth opportunities.

 

On January 31, 2017, Uniti Towers completed the acquisition of Network Management Holdings LTD (“NMS”).  At close, NMS owned and operated 366 wireless communications towers across Mexico, Colombia, and Nicaragua.

 

At December 31, 2017, the Uniti Towers’ portfolio consisted of 227 wireless communications towers located in 20 states across the eastern and central United States and 440 wireless communications towers in Latin America.  Results for Uniti Towers are reported in our consolidated financial statements in our Towers business segment.

 

Uniti Leasing

 

Uniti Leasing is engaged in acquiring mission-critical communications assets, such as fiber, data centers, next-generation consumer broadband, coaxial and upgradeable copper, and leasing them back to anchor customers on either an exclusive or shared-tenant basis.   Presently, Uniti Leasing’s primary source of revenue is rental revenues from leasing the Distribution Systems to Windstream under the Master Lease.  We believe our attractive cost of capital and advantaged REIT structure will enable Uniti Leasing to provide creative and tax-efficient solutions to additional customers, including (i) sale leaseback transactions, whereby Uniti Leasing acquires existing infrastructure assets from communications service providers and leases them back on a long-term basis; (ii) capital investment financing, whereby Uniti Leasing offers communications service providers a cost-efficient method of raising funds for discrete capital investments to upgrade or expand their network; and (iii) mergers and acquisitions financing, whereby Uniti Leasing facilitates mergers and acquisition transactions as a capital partner.  Results for Uniti Leasing are reported in our consolidated financial statements in our Leasing business segment.

 

Talk America

 

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We conduct the Consumer CLEC Business through Talk America Services, LLC. Talk America provides local telephone, high-speed Internet and long distance service to approximately 28,500 customers principally located in 17 states across the eastern and central United States. Substantially all of the network assets used to provide these services to customers are contracted through interconnection agreements with other telecommunications carriers.  Results for Talk America are reported in our in our consolidated financial statements in our Consumer CLEC business segment.

 

Industry

 

The current communications infrastructure industry is marked by the growing demand for and use of bandwidth-intensive devices and applications, such as smart devices, real-time and online streaming video, cloud-based applications, social media and mobile broadband. This growth in consumption requires the support of robust communications infrastructure, of which fiber networks and communications towers are critical components. Substantial investments have been made in recent years in fiber networks, lit services and colocation facilities to keep pace with the increased bandwidth use of both enterprise- and consumer-end users. As companies attempt to keep pace with this rapidly evolving business sector, communications infrastructure continues to increase in priority and economic importance. We believe this considerable demand creates tremendous opportunities for us as an acquirer and operator and as a funding source for operators seeking to capitalize on these trends through build outs and acquisitions of infrastructure assets.

 

The wireless communications industry is a prime example of the growing importance of the bandwidth infrastructure industry. As wireless traffic and mobile data consumption continue to grow worldwide, participants in the wireless communications industry are increasing their network capacity through the development of new wireless cell sites and the addition of bandwidth capacity.  Consumers are demanding network quality and coverage, and as a result wireless carriers are making significant capital investments to improve quality, expand their coverage and remain relevant in a highly competitive industry. We expect this continued growth in capital expenditures to generate high demands for wireless towers (including strong growth in long-term tower leasing), tower space and bandwidth infrastructure services.

 

Strategy

 

Our primary goal is to create long-term stockholder value by (i) generating reliable and growing cash flows, (ii) diversifying our tenant and asset base, (iii) paying a consistent dividend, and (iv) maintaining our financial strength and liquidity. To achieve this goal, we employ a business strategy that leverages our first mover advantages in the sector and our strong access to the capital markets. The key components of our business strategy are:

 

Acquire Additional Infrastructure Assets Through Sale Leaseback Transactions

 

We are actively seeking to acquire communications infrastructure assets from communication service providers and lease these assets back to the communication service providers on a long-term basis. We believe this type of transaction benefits the communication service providers with incremental liquidity which can be used to reduce indebtedness or for other investments, while they continue to focus on their existing business. We will employ a disciplined, opportunistic acquisition strategy and seek to price transactions appropriately based on, among other things, growth opportunities, the mix of assets acquired, length and terms of the lease, and credit worthiness of the tenant.

 

This strategy will also expand our mix of tenants and other real property and will reduce our revenue concentration with Windstream. We expect that this objective will be achieved over time as part of our overall strategy to acquire new distribution systems and other real property within the communications infrastructure industry to further diversify our overall portfolio.

 

Capitalize on the Market Demand for Increased Bandwidth Infrastructure and Performance

 

Bandwidth intensive devices and applications are rapidly fueling worldwide consumption of bandwidth, which in turn fuels a continuously growing demand for stable and secure bandwidth.  Communications service providers and other enterprises whose services and businesses require substantial amounts of bandwidth are increasingly looking

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to infrastructure providers to support their bandwidth needs and to expand the reach, performance and security of their networks.  We believe Uniti Fiber is well positioned to capitalize on this ongoing demand for bandwidth infrastructure solutions.  

 

Fund Capital Extensions and Improvements of Infrastructure Assets for Existing and New Tenants

 

We believe the communications infrastructure industry in the United States is currently going through an upgrade cycle driven by the consumer’s general desire for greater bandwidth and wireless services. These upgrades require significant capital expenditures, and we believe Uniti provides an attractive, non-competitive funding source for communication service providers to help accelerate the expansion of their networks at an attractive cost of capital.

 

We intend to support our tenant operators and other communication service providers by providing capital to them for a variety of purposes, including capacity augmentation projects, tower construction and network expansions. We expect to structure these investments as lease arrangements that produce additional rents.

 

Facilitate M&A Transactions in the Communication Service Sector as a Capital Partner

 

We believe Uniti can provide cost efficient funds to potential acquirors in the communication service sector, and thereby facilitate M&A transactions as a capital partner. The highly fragmented nature of the communication service sector is expected to result in more consolidation, which we believe will provide us ample opportunity to pursue these types of transactions.

 

Maintain Balance Sheet Strength and Liquidity

 

We seek to maintain a capital structure that provides the resources and financial flexibility to position us to capitalize on strategic growth opportunities. Our access to, and cost of, external capital is dependent on various factors, including general market conditions, credit ratings on our securities, interest rates and expectations of our future business performance. We intend to maintain a strong balance sheet through disciplined use of leverage, aiming to lower our relative cost of capital over time, and continuing to have access to multiple sources of capital and liquidity. As of December 31, 2017, we had $59.8 million of unrestricted cash and cash equivalents, and $470 million of undrawn borrowing capacity under our revolving credit facility. All of our debt is either fixed-rate debt, or floating-rate debt that we have fixed through the use of interest rate swaps.

 

Competition

 

We compete for investments in the communications industry with telecommunications companies, investment companies, private equity funds, hedge fund investors, sovereign funds and other REITs who focus primarily on specific segments of the communications infrastructure industry. The communications infrastructure industry is characterized by a high degree of competition among a large number of participants, including many local, regional and global corporations.  Some of our competitors are significantly larger and have greater financial resources and lower costs of capital than we have. In addition, revenues from our network properties are dependent, to an extent, on the ability of our operating partners, like Windstream, to compete with other communication service providers.

 

However, we believe we are positioned to identify and successfully capitalize on acquisition opportunities that meet our investment objectives and that we have significant competitive advantages that support our leadership position in owning, funding the construction of and leasing communications infrastructure, including:

 

First-Mover Advantage; Uniquely Positioned to Capitalize on Expansion Opportunities

 

We are the first and only REIT primarily focused on the acquisition and construction of mission critical infrastructure in the communications industry. We believe this provides us with a significant first-mover competitive advantage to capitalize on the large and fragmented communications infrastructure industry. Additionally, we believe our position, scale and national reach will help us achieve operational efficiencies and support future growth opportunities.

 

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Large Scale Anchor Tenant; Stable Rent Revenues

 

We believe the assets we lease to Windstream under the Master Lease are critical for Windstream to successfully run its business and operations. Windstream, as our anchor tenant, provides us with a base of stable and highly predictable rent revenues as an initial platform for us to grow and diversify our portfolio and tenant base.

Windstream is a publicly-traded company that provides advanced network communications, including cloud computing and managed services, to businesses nationwide. Windstream also offers broadband, phone and digital TV services to consumers primarily in rural areas. Windstream continues to operate the Distribution Systems, hold the associated regulatory licenses and own and operate other assets, including distribution systems in select states not included in the Spin-Off.

 

Windstream has a diverse customer base, encompassing enterprise and small business customers, carriers and consumers. The Distribution Systems we lease to Windstream are located in 29 different states across the continental United States. The fiber assets in any one state do not account for more than 20% of the total route miles in our network. We believe this geographic diversification will limit the effect of changes in any one market on our overall performance.

 

Windstream is subject to the reporting requirements of the SEC, which include the requirements to file annual reports containing audited financial information and quarterly reports containing unaudited financial information. Windstream’s filings with the SEC can be found at www.sec.gov. Windstream’s filings are not incorporated by reference into this Annual Report.

 

Strong Relationships with Communication Service Providers

 

Members of our management team have developed an extensive network of relationships with qualified local, regional and national communication service providers across the United States. This extensive network has been built by our management team through decades of operating experience, involvement in industry trade organizations and the development of banking relationships and investor relations within the communications infrastructure industry. We believe these strong relationships will allow us to effectively source investment opportunities from communication service providers other than Windstream. We intend to work collaboratively with our operating partners in providing expansion capital at attractive rates to help them achieve their growth and business objectives. We will seek to partner with communication service providers who possess local market knowledge, demonstrate hands-on management and have proven track records.

 

Experienced and Committed Management Team

 

Our senior management team is comprised of veteran leaders with strong backgrounds in their respective disciplines. As a result of extensive public company experience, our senior management team has over 100 years of combined experience in managing telecommunications operations, consummating mergers and acquisitions and accessing both debt and equity capital markets to fund growth and maintain a flexible capital structure.

 

Insurance

 

We maintain, or will require in our leases, including the Master Lease, that our tenants maintain, all applicable lines of insurance on our properties and their operations. Under the Master Lease, Windstream has the right to self-insure or use a captive provider with respect to its insurance obligations. We believe that the amount and scope of insurance coverage provided by our policies and the policies maintained by our tenants are customary for similarly situated companies in the telecommunications industry. However, our tenants may elect not to, or be able to, maintain the required insurance coverages, and the failure by any of them to do so could have a material adverse effect on us. We may not continue to require the same levels of insurance coverage under our leases, including the Master Lease, and such insurance may not be available at a reasonable cost in the future or fully cover all losses on our properties upon the occurrence of a catastrophic event.  Moreover, we cannot guarantee the future financial viability of the insurers.

 

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Employees

 

At December 31, 2017, we had 654 full-time employees. Except for 18 employees in Mexico, none of our employees are subject to a collective bargaining agreement.

 

Significant Customers

 

For the years ended December 31, 2017 and 2016 and for the period from April 24, 2015 to December 31, 2015, 74.8%, 87.9% and 96.3% of our revenues, respectively, were derived from leasing our Distribution Systems to Windstream Holdings pursuant to the Master Lease.  

 

Government Regulation, Licensing and Enforcement

 

U.S. Telecommunications Regulatory Overview

 

Market Overview

 

Our subsidiaries and our tenants operate in a regulated and highly competitive market.  Current and potential competitors include other communications tower owners, providers of voice and data services, providers of fiber and other backhaul services, traditional telephone companies, cable companies, Internet service providers, and other companies. As operators of telecommunications facilities and services, both we and the current and future tenants of our telecommunications assets are typically subject to extensive and complex federal, state and local telecommunications laws and regulations. The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) regulates the provision of interstate and international telecommunications services, and state public utility commissions (“PUCs”) regulate intrastate telecommunications services. Both FCC and PUC telecommunications regulations are wide-ranging and can subject us and our tenants to civil, criminal and administrative sanctions. We expect that the telecommunications industry, in general, will continue to face increased competition and regulation. Changes in laws and regulations and regulatory non-compliance by us or our tenants could have a significant direct or indirect effect on our operations and financial condition, as detailed below and set forth under “Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business.”

 

Our operations require that certain of our subsidiaries hold licenses or other forms of authorization from the FCC and state PUCs in those states where we operate, and in some jurisdictions our subsidiaries must file tariffs or other price lists describing their rates, terms and conditions of the services they provide.  The FCC and PUCs can modify or terminate a service provider’s license or other authority to provide telecommunications services for failure to comply with applicable laws and regulations.  The FCC and PUCs may also investigate our subsidiaries’ operations and may impose fines or other penalties for violations of the same.  In addition, our subsidiaries are required to submit periodic reports to the FCC and PUCs documenting their revenues and other data.  Some of this information is used as the basis for the imposition of various regulatory fees and other assessments. In order to engage in certain transactions in some jurisdictions, including changes of control, the encumbrance of certain assets, the issuance of securities, the incurrence of indebtedness, the guarantee of indebtedness of other entities, including subsidiaries of ours, and the transfer of our assets, we are required to provide notice and/or obtain prior approval from certain governmental agencies.  

  

Our subsidiaries are subject to a number of federal and state regulations that govern the way we can conduct our business.  Such regulations also impose certain operating costs on our businesses.  These regulations can include restrictions on pricing flexibility for certain products, minimum service quality standards, service reporting, intercarrier compensation, universal service funding, and other obligations.  

 

We believe that we have structured the operations for our core real estate business in a manner that will not require us to become regulated as a public utility or common carrier by the FCC or PUCs.  But, a number of our business operations nonetheless are subject to federal, state, and local regulation.

 

Consumer CLEC Business

 

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Talk America Services operates the Consumer CLEC Business as a reseller of telecommunication services pursuant to a Wholesale Master Services Agreement and a Master Service Agreement with Windstream.  In almost all cases, Windstream does not own the underlying telecommunication facilities required to support the Consumer CLEC Business, rather it is a reseller of facility-based services pursuant to wholesale interconnection agreements with third-party carriers that own the underlying telecommunication facilities. Talk America Services is authorized and regulated as a CLEC and an interexchange (long-distance) service provider in most states where it has Consumer CLEC Business customers. These certifications subject Talk America Services to regulations requiring it to file and maintain tariffs for the rates charged to its Consumer CLEC Business customers for regulated services and to comply with service quality, service reporting and other regulatory obligations. Talk America Service’s ability to operate the Consumer CLEC Business is dependent on existing telecommunication regulations that allow access to such underlying facilities of other carriers at reasonable rates.

 

With respect to the broadband Internet services that we provide, traditionally, the FCC has recognized that broadband Internet access services are “information services” subject to limited regulation. In 2015, the FCC issued a “network neutrality” decision that declared broadband Internet access services to be subject to certain “telecommunications services” regulation under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. This decision creates uncertainty concerning the level of regulation that will apply to broadband services going forward. These regulations will limit the ways that broadband Internet access service providers can structure business arrangements and manage their networks and could spur additional restrictions, including rate regulation, which could adversely affect broadband investment and innovation. The proper scope of such regulations is being debated in Congress and may be revisited by the FCC. It is unclear at this time how broadband services will be regulated in the future, and the potential impact those regulations may have on our broadband Internet service business.

 

Uniti Towers

 

Uniti Towers is subject to international, federal, state and local regulatory requirements with respect to the registration, siting, construction, lighting, marking and maintenance of our towers. In the United States, the construction of new towers or modifications to existing towers may require pre-approval by the FCC and the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”), depending on factors such as tower height and proximity to public airfields. Towers requiring pre-approval must be registered with the FCC and maintained in accordance with FCC and FAA standards. Similar requirements regarding pre-approval of the construction and modification of towers are imposed by regulators in other countries where Uniti Towers owns and operates towers. Non-compliance with applicable tower-related requirements may lead to monetary penalties or site deconstruction orders.

 

Regulatory regimes outside of the U.S. and its territories vary by country and locality; however, these regulations typically require approval from local officials or government agencies prior to tower construction or modification or the addition of a new antenna to an existing tower. Additionally, some regulations include ongoing obligations regarding painting, lighting and maintenance. Our international operations may also be subject to limitations on foreign ownership of land in certain areas. Non-compliance with such regulations may lead to monetary penalties or deconstruction orders. Our international operations are also subject to various regulations and guidelines regarding employee relations and other occupational health and safety matters.

 

In all countries where Uniti Towers operates, it is subject to zoning restrictions and restrictive covenants imposed by local authorities or community organizations. While these regulations vary, they typically require approval from local authorities or community standards organizations prior to tower construction or the addition of a new antenna to an existing tower. Opposition by local zoning authorities and community residents can delay or prevent new tower construction or site upgrade projects, thereby increasing the costs and timing of new tower construction and modifications or site upgrades.

 

The failure to properly maintain towers pursuant to applicable regulatory requirements, such as but not limited to, lighting, painting, and other safety standards, can subject us to significant enforcement actions, including monetary penalties both within the U.S. and abroad.

 

Uniti Fiber

 

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Our subsidiaries that compose Uniti Fiber own and operate significant fiber and other communications backhaul facilities throughout various regions of the U.S.  The provision of such services is subject to FCC and PUC licensure in many jurisdictions, and the companies are typically licensed as CLECs and/or interexchange carriers in those states where they operate.  The companies also hold various FCC wireless licenses in order to provide microwave backhaul services.  Because of the nature of the licenses that these companies hold, and the nature of the services that they provide, they are subject to various federal and state regulatory requirements, including, but not limited to, revenue and other reporting requirements and tariffing requirements.  The companies must also maintain their wireless licenses with the FCC, which requires construction and notification reporting and other regulatory requirements.  The construction of additions to our current fiber network through our Uniti Fiber subsidiary is also subject to certain state and local governmental permitting and licensing requirements  

 

Regulatory Changes

 

Future revenues, costs and capital investment in the communication businesses of our tenants, Talk America Services, Uniti Fiber, Uniti Towers, and other related entities could be adversely affected by material changes to, or decisions regarding applicability of, government requirements, including, but not limited to, changes in rules governing inter-carrier compensation, interconnection access to network facilities, state and federal universal service fund (“USF”) support, rules governing the prices that can be charged for business data services, infrastructure location and siting rules, and other requirements.  Federal and state communications laws may be amended in the future, and other laws may affect our business.  In addition, certain laws and regulations applicable to us and our competitors may be, and have been, challenged in the courts and could be changed at any time. We cannot predict future developments or changes to the regulatory environment or the impact such developments or changes would have on our business.

 

In addition, regulations could create significant compliance costs for us.  Delays in obtaining FCC and PUC certifications and regulatory approvals could cause us to incur substantial legal and administrative expenses, and conditions imposed in connection with such approvals could adversely affect the rates that we are able to charge our customers. Both our subsidiaries and our tenants may also be affected by legislation and/or regulation imposing new or additional obligations related to, for example, law enforcement assistance, cyber-security protection, intellectual property rights protections, environmental protections, consumer privacy, tax, or other areas.  We can’t predict how any such future changes may impact our business, or the business of our tenants.

 

Environmental Matters

 

A wide variety of federal, state and local environmental and occupational health and safety laws and regulations affect telecommunications operations and facilities. These complex laws, and their enforcement, involve a myriad of regulations, many of which involve strict liability. Some of these federal, state and local laws may directly impact us. Under various federal, state and local environmental laws, ordinances and regulations, an owner of real property, such as us, may be liable for the costs of removal or remediation of hazardous or toxic substances at, under or disposed of in connection with such property, as well as other potential costs relating to hazardous or toxic substances (including government fines and damages for injuries to persons and adjacent property). The cost of any required remediation, removal, fines or personal property damages and the owner’s liability therefore could exceed or impair the value of the property and/or the assets of the owner. In addition, the presence of such substances, or the failure to properly dispose of or remediate such substances, may adversely affect the owner’s ability to sell or rent such property or to borrow using such property as collateral, which, in turn, could reduce revenues.

 

Available Information

 

Our principal executive offices are located at 10802 Executive Center Drive, Benton Building Suite 300, Little Rock, AR 72211 and our telephone number is (501) 850-0820.  We currently maintain a website at www.uniti.com.  Our Annual Reports on Form 10-K, Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q, Current Reports on Form 8-K and any amendments to those reports filed or furnished pursuant to Section 13(a) or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the ‘‘Exchange Act’’) are available on our website, free of charge, as soon as reasonably practicable after we electronically file such materials with, or furnish them to, the SEC. Our Exchange Act filings can also be found at www.sec.gov.

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Current copies of our Code of Business Conduct and Ethics & Whistleblower Policy, Corporate Governance Guidelines, and the charters for our Audit, Compensation and Governance Committees are posted in the Corporate Governance section of the About Us page of our website at www.uniti.com.

Item 1A. Risk Factors.  

Risks Related to Our Business

 

We are dependent on Windstream Holdings to make payments to us under the Master Lease, and an event that materially and adversely affects Windstream’s business, financial position or results of operations could materially and adversely affect our business, financial position or results of operations.

 

Windstream is the lessee of the Distribution Systems pursuant to the Master Lease and, therefore, is presently the source of a substantial portion of our revenues. There can be no assurance that Windstream will have sufficient assets, income and access to financing to enable it to satisfy its payment and other obligations under the Master Lease. In recent years, Windstream has experienced annual declines in its total revenue and sales.  Most recently, Windstream has endured a challenge from an entity who acquired certain Windstream debt securities for the purpose of seeking an “event of default” under such securities relating to the Spin-Off.  An actual “event of default” would permit the trustee or holders of at least 25% in aggregate principal amount of outstanding of such Windstream debt securities to declare the principal amount of all outstanding Windstream debt to be immediately due and payable. Such an outcome would trigger cross-default provisions in Windstream’s other debt instruments, including Windstream’s existing credit facility, which, in turn, would trigger a default under the Master Lease. A default by Windstream under the Master Lease could materially adversely affect our business, assets, financial position, and results of operations, including our ability to pay dividends to our stockholders as required to maintain our status as a REIT.

 

If the Spin-Off, together with certain related transactions, fails to qualify as a tax-free transaction for U.S. federal income tax purposes, both we and Windstream could be subject to significant tax liabilities and, in certain circumstances, we could be required to indemnify Windstream for material taxes pursuant to indemnification obligations under the tax matters agreement entered into in connection with the Spin-Off.

 

Windstream received a private letter ruling (the “IRS Ruling”) from the Internal Revenue Service (the “IRS”) to the effect that, on the basis of certain facts presented and representations and assumptions set forth in the request submitted to the IRS, the Spin-Off will qualify as tax-free under Sections 355 and 368(a)(1)(D) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (the “Code”). Although a private letter ruling from the IRS generally is binding on the IRS, if the factual representations and assumptions made in the letter ruling request are untrue or incomplete in any material respect, then Windstream will not be able to rely on the IRS Ruling. In addition, the IRS Ruling does not address certain requirements for tax-free treatment of the Spin-Off under Sections 355 and 368(a)(1)(D) of the Code and Windstream’s use of Uniti indebtedness and common stock to retire certain of Windstream’s indebtedness (the “debt exchanges”). Accordingly, the Spin-Off was conditioned upon the receipt by Windstream of a tax opinion from its counsel with respect to the requirements on which the IRS did not rule, which concluded that such requirements also should be satisfied. The tax opinion was based on, among other things, the IRS Ruling, then current law and certain representations and assumptions as to factual matters made by Windstream and us. Any change in currently applicable law, which may or may not be retroactive, or the failure of any factual representation or assumption to be true, correct and complete in all material respects, could adversely affect the conclusions reached in the tax opinion. In addition, the tax opinion is not binding on the IRS or the courts, and the IRS or the courts may not agree with the tax opinion.

 

If the Spin-Off were determined to be taxable, Windstream would recognize taxable gain. Under the terms of the tax matters agreement entered into with Windstream in connection with the Spin-Off (the “Tax Matters Agreement”), we are generally responsible for any taxes imposed on Windstream that arise from the failure of the Spin-Off and the debt exchanges to qualify as tax-free for U.S. federal income tax purposes, within the meaning of Section 355 and Section 368(a)(1)(D) of the Code, as applicable, to the extent such failure to qualify is attributable to certain actions, events or transactions relating to our stock, indebtedness, assets or business, or a breach of the relevant representations or any covenants made by us in the Tax Matters Agreement, the materials submitted to the IRS in

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connection with the request for the IRS Ruling or the representations provided in connection with the tax opinion. Our indemnification obligations to Windstream are not limited by any maximum amount and such amounts could be substantial. If we are required to indemnify Windstream under the circumstances set forth in the Tax Matters Agreement, we may also be subject to substantial tax liabilities.

 

In addition, if the Spin-Off or the debt exchanges failed to qualify as tax free for U.S. federal income tax purposes, Windstream may incur significant tax liabilities that could materially affect Windstream’s ability to make payments under the Master Lease.

Our level of indebtedness could materially and adversely affect our financial position, including reducing funds available for other business purposes and reducing our operational flexibility.

As of December 31, 2017, we had outstanding long term indebtedness of approximately $4.5 billion consisting of a combination of senior notes and term loans. Additionally, we have a revolving credit facility in an aggregate principal amount of up to $750 million, $470 million of which was undrawn as of December 31, 2017, provided by a syndicate of banks and other financial institutions. Subject to the restrictions set forth in our debt agreements, our board of directors may establish and change our leverage policy at any time without stockholder approval. Any significant additional indebtedness could require a substantial portion of our cash flow to make interest and principal payments due on our indebtedness. Greater demands on our cash resources may reduce funds available to us to pay dividends, make capital expenditures and acquisitions, or carry out other aspects of our business strategy. Increased indebtedness can also limit our ability to adjust rapidly to changing market conditions, make us more vulnerable to general adverse economic and industry conditions and create competitive disadvantages for us compared to other companies with relatively lower debt levels. Increased future debt service obligations may limit our operational flexibility, including our ability to acquire assets, finance or refinance our assets or sell assets as needed.

We intend to pursue acquisitions of additional properties and seek other strategic opportunities, which may result in the use of a significant amount of management resources or significant costs, and we may not fully realize the potential benefits of such transactions.

 

We intend to pursue acquisitions of additional properties and seek acquisitions and other strategic opportunities. Accordingly, we currently are, and expect in the future to be, engaged in evaluating potential transactions and other strategic alternatives. Although there is uncertainty that any of these discussions will result in definitive agreements or the completion of any transaction, we may devote a significant amount of our management resources to such a transaction, which could negatively impact our operations. We may incur significant costs in connection with seeking acquisitions or other strategic opportunities regardless of whether the transaction is completed. In the event that we consummate an acquisition or strategic alternative in the future, there is no assurance that we would fully realize the potential benefits of such a transaction. Integration may be difficult and unpredictable, and acquisition-related integration costs, including certain non-recurring charges, could materially and adversely affect our results of operations. Moreover, integrating assets and businesses may significantly burden management and internal resources, including the potential loss or unavailability of key personnel. If we fail to successfully integrate the assets and businesses we acquire, we may not fully realize the potential benefits we expect, and our operating results could be adversely affected.

 

 

Risks Related to the Status of Uniti as a REIT

 

If we do not qualify as a REIT, or fail to remain qualified as a REIT, we will be subject to U.S. federal income tax as a regular corporation and could face a substantial tax liability, which could reduce the amount of cash available for distribution to our stockholders and to service debt.

 

We operate as a REIT for U.S. federal income tax purposes.  Our qualification as a REIT will depend on our satisfaction of certain highly technical and complex asset, income, organizational, distribution, stockholder ownership and other requirements on a continuing basis. Our ability to satisfy the asset tests depends upon our analysis of the characterization and fair market values of our assets, some of which are not susceptible to a precise determination, and for which we may not obtain independent appraisals.

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If we were to fail to qualify as a REIT in any taxable year, we would be subject to U.S. federal income tax on our taxable income at regular corporate rates, including any applicable alternative minimum tax, and dividends paid to our stockholders would not be deductible by us in computing our taxable income. Any resulting corporate liability could be substantial and could reduce the amount of cash available for distribution to our stockholders, which in turn could have an adverse impact on the value of our common stock and to service debt. Unless we were entitled to relief under certain Code provisions, we also would be disqualified from reelecting to be taxed as a REIT for the four taxable years following the year in which we failed to qualify as a REIT.

 

Legislative or other actions affecting REITs could have a negative effect on us.

 

The rules dealing with federal income taxation are constantly under review by persons involved in the legislative process and by the IRS and the U.S. Department of the Treasury (“Treasury”). Changes to the tax laws affecting REITs or TRSs, which may have retroactive application, could adversely affect our stockholders or us. We cannot predict how changes in the tax laws might affect our stockholders or us. Accordingly, we cannot provide assurance that new legislation, Treasury regulations, administrative interpretations or court decisions will not significantly affect our ability to remain qualified as a REIT, the federal income tax consequences of such qualification, the determination of the amount of REIT taxable income or the amount of tax paid by the TRSs.

 

We could fail to qualify as a REIT if income we receive from Windstream is not treated as qualifying income.

 

Under applicable provisions of the Code, we will not be treated as a REIT unless we satisfy various requirements, including requirements relating to the sources of our gross income. Rents received or accrued by us from Windstream will not be treated as qualifying rent for purposes of these requirements if the Master Lease is not respected as a true lease for U.S. federal income tax purposes and is instead treated as a service contract, joint venture or some other type of arrangement. If the Master Lease is not respected as a true lease for U.S. federal income tax purposes, we may fail to qualify as a REIT.

 

REIT distribution requirements could adversely affect our ability to execute our business plan.

 

We generally must distribute annually at least 90% of our REIT taxable income, determined without regard to the dividends paid deduction and excluding any net capital gains, in order for us to qualify as a REIT (assuming that certain other requirements are also satisfied) so that U.S. federal corporate income tax does not apply to earnings that we distribute. To the extent that we satisfy this distribution requirement and qualify for taxation as a REIT but distribute less than 100% of our REIT taxable income, determined without regard to the dividends paid deduction and excluding any net capital gains, we will be subject to U.S. federal corporate income tax on our undistributed net taxable income. In addition, we will be subject to a 4% nondeductible excise tax if the actual amount that we distribute to our stockholders in a calendar year is less than a minimum amount specified for REITs under U.S. federal income tax laws. We intend to make distributions to our stockholders to comply with the REIT requirements of the Code.

 

Our FFO is currently generated primarily by rents paid under the Master Lease. From time to time, we may generate taxable income greater than our cash flow as a result of differences in timing between the recognition of taxable income and the actual receipt of cash or the effect of nondeductible capital expenditures, the creation of reserves or required debt or amortization payments. If we do not have other funds available in these situations, we could be required to borrow funds on unfavorable terms, sell assets at disadvantageous prices or distribute amounts that would otherwise be invested in future acquisitions in order to make distributions sufficient to enable us to pay out enough of our taxable income to satisfy the REIT distribution requirement and to avoid corporate income tax, including the 4% excise tax in a particular year. These alternatives could increase our costs or reduce our equity. Thus, compliance with the REIT requirements may hinder our ability to grow, which could adversely affect the value of our common stock and decrease cash available to service debt.

 

Even if we remain qualified as a REIT, we may face other tax liabilities that reduce our cash flow.

 

Even if we remain qualified for taxation as a REIT, we may be subject to certain U.S. federal, state and local taxes on our income and assets, including taxes on any undistributed income and state or local income, property and

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transfer taxes. For example, we hold some of our assets and conduct certain of our activities through a TRS that is subject to U.S. federal, state and local corporate-level income taxes as a regular C corporation. In addition, we may incur a 100% excise tax on transactions with a TRS if they are not conducted on an arm’s-length basis. Any of these taxes could decrease cash available for distribution to our stockholders and servicing our debt.

 

Complying with the REIT requirements may cause us to forego otherwise attractive acquisition opportunities.

 

To qualify as a REIT for U.S. federal income tax purposes, we must ensure that, at the end of each calendar quarter, at least 75% of the value of our assets consists of cash, cash items, government securities and “real estate assets” (as defined in the Code). The remainder of our investments (other than government securities, qualified real estate assets and securities issued by a TRS) generally cannot include more than 10% of the outstanding voting securities of any one issuer or more than 10% of the total value of the outstanding securities of any one issuer. In addition, in general, no more than 5% of the value of our total assets (other than government securities, qualified real estate assets and securities issued by a TRS) can consist of the securities of any one issuer, no more than 20% of the value of our total assets can be represented by securities of one or more TRSs, and no more than 25% of the value of our total assets can be represented by nonqualified publicly offered REIT debt instruments (as defined in the Code). If we fail to comply with these requirements at the end of any calendar quarter, we must correct the failure within 30 days after the end of the calendar quarter or qualify for certain statutory relief provisions to avoid losing our REIT qualification and suffering adverse tax consequences. As a result of such asset limitations, we may be required to forego otherwise attractive investments. These actions could have the effect of reducing our income and amounts available for distribution to our stockholders and servicing our debt.

 

Risks Related to our Business

 

We are dependent on the communications industry and may be susceptible to the risks associated with it, which could materially adversely affect our business, financial position or results of operations.

 

As the owner, lessor and provider of communications services and distribution systems serving the communications industry, we are impacted by the risks associated with the communications industry. Therefore, our success is to some degree dependent on the communications industry, which could be adversely affected by economic conditions in general, changes in consumer trends and preferences, changes in communications technology and other factors over which we and our tenants have no control. As we are subject to risks inherent in substantial investments in a single industry, a decrease in the communications business would likely have an adverse effect on our revenues.

 

Our business is subject to government regulations and changes in current or future laws or regulations could restrict our ability to operate our business in the manner currently contemplated.

 

Our business, and that of our tenants, is subject to federal, state, local and foreign regulation. In certain jurisdictions these regulations could be applied or enforced retroactively. Local zoning authorities and community organizations are often opposed to construction in their communities and these regulations can delay, prevent or increase the cost of new distribution system construction and modifications, thereby limiting our ability to respond to customer demands and requirements. Existing regulatory policies may materially and adversely affect the associated timing or cost of such projects and additional regulations may be adopted which increase delays or result in additional costs to us, or that prevent such projects in certain locations. These factors could materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations or financial condition. For more information regarding the regulations we are subject to, please see the section entitled “Business – Government Regulation, Licensing and Enforcement.”

 

Any failure of Uniti Fiber’s physical infrastructure or services could lead to significant costs and disruptions.

 

Uniti Fiber’s business depends on providing customers with highly reliable service. The services provided are subject to failure resulting from numerous factors, including human error, power loss, improper maintenance, physical or electronic security breaches, fire, earthquake, hurricane, flood and other natural disasters, water damage, the effect of war, terrorism and any related conflicts or similar events worldwide, and sabotage and vandalism. Problems within Uniti Fiber’s networks or facilities, whether within our control or the control of third-party providers, could result in service interruptions or equipment damage. We may not be able to efficiently upgrade or change Uniti Fiber’s networks or facilities to meet new demands without incurring

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significant costs that we may not be able to pass on to customers. Given the service guarantees that may be included in Uniti Fiber’s agreements with customers, such disruptions could result in customer credits; however, we cannot assume that customers will accept these credits as compensation in the future, and we may face additional liability or loss of customers.

 

Uniti Fiber uses franchises, licenses, permits, rights-of-way, conduit leases, fiber agreements, and property leases, which could be canceled or not renewed.

 

Uniti Fiber must maintain rights-of-way, franchises, and other permits from railroads, utilities, state highway authorities, local governments, transit authorities, and others to operate its fiber network. We cannot be certain that we will be successful in maintaining these rights-of-way agreements or obtaining future agreements on acceptable terms. Some of these agreements are short-term or revocable at will, and we cannot assure you that we will continue to have access to existing rights-of-way after they have expired or terminated. If a material portion of these agreements are terminated or are not renewed, we might be forced to abandon these networks. In order to operate these networks, we must also maintain fiber leases and indefeasible right of use (“IRU”) agreements between Uniti Fiber and both public and private entities, and there is no assurance that we will be able to renew those fiber leases and IRU agreements on favorable terms, or at all. If we are unable to renew those fiber leases and IRU agreements on favorable terms, we may face increased costs or reduced revenues.

 

In order to expand Uniti Fiber’s network to new locations, we often need to obtain additional rights-of-way, franchises, and other permits. Our failure to obtain these rights in a prompt and cost-effective manner may prevent us from expanding our network, which may be necessary to meet our contractual obligations to our customers and could expose us to liabilities.

 

If we lose or are unable to renew key real property leases where Uniti Fiber has located networks or facilities, it could adversely affect our services and increase our costs, as we would be required to restructure or move these networks or facilities.

 

New technologies or changes in a tenant’s business model could make our business less desirable

and result in decreasing revenues.

 

The development and implementation of new technologies designed to enhance the efficiency of communications distribution systems, including lit fiber networks and wireless equipment, or changes in a tenant’s business model due to such technological changes, could reduce the need for our services, decrease demand for tower space or fiber or reduce previously obtainable lease rates for communications infrastructure. In addition, tenants may allocate less of their budgets to certain types of communications infrastructure, as the industry is trending towards deploying increased capital to the development and implementation of new technologies. Further, a tenant may decide to no longer outsource certain types of communications infrastructure or otherwise change its business model, which would result in a decrease in our revenue. The development and implementation of any of these and similar technologies to any significant degree or changes in a tenant’s business model could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations or financial condition.

 

If we determine that our goodwill has become impaired, we may incur impairment charges, which would negatively impact our operating results.

 

At December 31, 2017, we had $673.7 million of goodwill on our consolidated balance sheet. Goodwill represents the excess of cost over the fair value of net assets acquired in business combinations. We assess potential impairment of our goodwill at least annually. Impairment may result from significant changes in the manner of use of the acquired assets, negative industry or economic trends and/or significant underperformance relative to historic or projected operating results. Changes in these events and conditions or other assumptions could result in an impairment charge in the future, which could have a significant adverse impact on our reported earnings.  For a discussion of our goodwill impairment testing, see “Critical Accounting Policies-Evaluation of Goodwill Impairment” in Part II, Item 7A-Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations.

 

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Our foreign operations are subject to economic, political and other risks that could materially and adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.

 

Our international business operations expose us to potential adverse financial and operational problems not typically experienced in the United States, including:

 

 

international political, economic and legal conditions;

 

our ability to comply with foreign regulations and/or laws affecting operations and projects;

 

difficulties in attracting and retaining staff and business partners to operate internationally;

 

language and cultural barriers;

 

seasonal reductions in business activities and operations in the countries where our international projects are located;

 

integration of foreign operations;

 

potential adverse tax consequences; and

 

potential foreign currency fluctuations.

 

In addition, many of our tenants in our international operations are subsidiaries of global telecommunications companies. These subsidiaries may not have the explicit or implied financial support of their parent entities. Any of these factors could adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.

 

Our continued operation and expansion outside the United States, including in developing countries, increase the risk of violations of applicable anti-corruption in the future.

 

Our internal policies provide for compliance with all applicable anti-corruption laws, but despite our training and compliance programs, we cannot assure you that our internal control policies and procedures will always protect us from unauthorized, reckless or criminal acts committed by our employees, agents or partners.  A finding that the Company or its affiliates have violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) or similar foreign anti-corruption laws may result in severe criminal or civil sanctions, which could disrupt our business and result in a material adverse effect on our reputation, financial condition and results of operations.

 

We or our tenants may experience uninsured or underinsured losses, which could result in a significant loss of the capital we have invested in a property, decrease anticipated future revenues or cause us to incur unanticipated expenses.

 

The Master Lease requires, and we expect that new lease agreements that we enter into will require, that the tenant maintain comprehensive insurance and hazard insurance or self-insure its insurance obligations. However, there are certain types of losses, generally of a catastrophic nature, such as earthquakes, hurricanes and floods that may be uninsurable or not economically insurable. Insurance coverage may not be sufficient to pay the full current market value or current replacement cost of a loss. Inflation, changes in ordinances, environmental considerations, and other factors also might make it infeasible to use insurance proceeds to replace the property after such property has been damaged or destroyed. Under such circumstances, the insurance proceeds received might not be adequate to restore the economic position with respect to such property.

 

In addition, even if damage to our properties is covered by insurance, a disruption of business caused by a casualty event may result in loss of revenue for our tenants or us. Any business interruption insurance may not fully compensate them or us for such loss of revenue. If one of our tenants experiences such a loss, it may be unable to satisfy its payment obligations to us under its lease with us.

 

We rely on information technology in our operations, and any material failure, inadequacy, interruption or security failure of that technology could harm our business.

 

We rely on information technology networks and systems, including the Internet, to process, transmit and store electronic information and to manage or support a variety of our business processes, including financial transactions and maintenance of records. We rely on commercially available systems, software, tools and monitoring to provide

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security for processing, transmitting and storing confidential information. Although we have taken steps to protect the security of the data maintained in our information systems, it is possible that our security measures will not be able to prevent the systems’ improper functioning, or the improper disclosure of information in the event of cyber-attacks. Physical or electronic break-ins, computer viruses, attacks by hackers and similar security breaches, can create system disruptions, shutdowns or unauthorized disclosure of confidential information. Any failure to maintain proper function, security and availability of our information systems could interrupt our operations, damage our reputation, subject us to liability claims or regulatory penalties and could materially and adversely affect us.

 

Risks Related to Our Common Stock

 

We cannot assure you of our ability to pay dividends in the future.

 

It is expected that our dividend will be $2.40 per share per annum, subject to approval of our board of directors. The qualify as a REIT, the annual dividend must not be less than 90% of our REIT taxable income on an annual basis, determined without regard to the dividends paid deduction and excluding any net capital gains. Our ability to pay dividends may be adversely affected by a number of factors, including the risk factors herein. Dividends will be authorized by our board of directors and declared by us based upon a number of factors, including actual results of operations, restrictions under Maryland law or applicable debt covenants, our financial condition, our taxable income, the annual distribution requirements under the REIT provisions of the Code, our operating expenses and other factors our directors deem relevant. We cannot assure you that we will achieve investment results that will allow us to make a specified level of cash dividends or year-to-year increases in cash dividends in the future.

 

Furthermore, while we are required to pay dividends in order to maintain our REIT status (as described above under “Risks Related to Our Status as a REIT- REIT distribution requirements could adversely affect our ability to execute our business plan”), we may elect not to maintain our REIT status, in which case we would no longer be required to pay such dividends. Moreover, even if we do maintain our REIT status, after completing various procedural steps, we may elect to comply with the applicable distribution requirements by distributing, under certain circumstances, shares of our common stock in lieu of cash. If we elect not to maintain our REIT status or to satisfy any required distributions in shares of common stock in lieu of cash, such action could negatively affect our business and financial condition as well as the market price of our common stock. No assurance can be given that we will pay any dividends on shares of our common stock in the future.

 

Our charter restricts the ownership and transfer of our outstanding stock, which may have the effect of delaying, deferring or preventing a transaction or change of control of our company.

 

In order for us to qualify as a REIT, not more than 50% in value of our outstanding shares of stock may be owned, beneficially or constructively, by five or fewer individuals at any time during the last half of each taxable year after the first year for which we elect to be taxed and qualify as a REIT. Additionally, at least 100 persons must beneficially own our stock during at least 335 days of a taxable year (other than the first taxable year for which we elect to be taxed and qualify as a REIT). Our charter, with certain exceptions, authorizes our board of directors to take such actions as are necessary or advisable to preserve our qualification as a REIT. Our charter also provides that, unless exempted by the board of directors, no person may own more than 9.8% in value or in number, whichever is more restrictive, of the outstanding shares of our common stock or more than 9.8% in value of the aggregate of the outstanding shares of all classes and series of our stock. The constructive ownership rules are complex and may cause shares of stock owned directly or constructively by a group of related individuals or entities to be constructively owned by one individual or entity. These ownership limits could delay or prevent a transaction or a change in control of us that might involve a premium price for shares of our stock or otherwise be in the best interests of our stockholders.

 

Item 1B. Unresolved Staff Comments.

None

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Item 2. Properties.

Uniti and its subsidiaries own approximately 97,700 fiber network route miles, representing approximately 4.9 million fiber strand miles, approximately 216,100 route miles of copper cable lines, central office land and buildings across 41 states and beneficial rights to permits, pole agreements and easements.

Leasing Segment

Uniti Leasing’s network properties include its fiber route miles and copper route miles. Below is a geographic distribution summary as of December 31, 2017:

Location

 

Fiber Route Miles

 

 

Copper Route Miles

 

 

Total Route Miles

 

GA

 

 

9,600

 

 

 

43,800

 

 

 

53,400

 

IA

 

 

8,500

 

 

 

32,700

 

 

 

41,200

 

KY

 

 

7,700

 

 

 

30,300

 

 

 

38,000

 

TX

 

 

7,700

 

 

 

33,800

 

 

 

41,500

 

NC

 

 

4,200

 

 

 

18,200

 

 

 

22,400

 

IL

 

 

3,700

 

 

 

 

 

 

3,700

 

OH

 

 

3,300

 

 

 

10,300

 

 

 

13,600

 

AR

 

 

2,900

 

 

 

11,200

 

 

 

14,100

 

IN

 

 

2,600

 

 

 

 

 

 

2,600

 

MI

 

 

2,100

 

 

 

 

 

 

2,100

 

WI

 

 

2,100

 

 

 

 

 

 

2,100

 

OK

 

 

1,600

 

 

 

11,000

 

 

 

12,600

 

FL

 

 

1,500

 

 

 

7,700

 

 

 

9,200

 

MO

 

 

1,300

 

 

 

 

 

 

1,300

 

PA

 

 

1,300

 

 

 

8,400

 

 

 

9,700

 

NM

 

 

900

 

 

 

 

 

 

900

 

WV

 

 

900

 

 

 

5,000

 

 

 

5,900

 

TN

 

 

800

 

 

 

 

 

 

800

 

VA

 

 

800

 

 

 

 

 

 

800

 

AL

 

 

600

 

 

 

2,200

 

 

 

2,800

 

MS

 

 

400

 

 

 

1,400

 

 

 

1,800

 

Other(1)

 

 

300

 

 

 

 

 

 

300

 

Total

 

 

64,800

 

 

 

216,000

 

 

 

280,800

 

(1) Includes 13 states.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fiber Segment

Uniti Fiber’s network properties include its fiber route miles and wireless communication towers. Below is a geographic distribution summary as of December 31, 2017:

Location

 

Fiber Route Miles

 

GA

 

 

5,600

 

LA

 

 

4,900

 

PA

 

 

4,400

 

FL

 

 

4,100

 

AL

 

 

3,000

 

MS

 

 

2,700

 

IL

 

 

2,300

 

VA

 

 

1,700

 

NY

 

 

1,500

 

TX

 

 

900

 

Other(1)

 

 

1,800

 

Total

 

 

32,900

 

(1) Includes 12 states.

 

 

 

 

Towers Segment

Uniti Tower’s network properties include its wireless communication towers. Below is a geographic distribution summary as of December 31, 2017:

Location

 

Towers

 

LA

 

 

120

 

NM

 

 

22

 

TX

 

 

22

 

AR

 

 

13

 

NE

 

 

13

 

MS

 

 

7

 

PA

 

 

5

 

MN

 

 

4

 

AL

 

 

3

 

GA

 

 

3

 

OK

 

 

3

 

Other(1)

 

 

12

 

Total Domestic(2)

 

 

227

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mexico

 

 

285

 

Colombia

 

 

100

 

Nicaragua

 

 

55

 

Total International

 

 

440

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total

 

 

667

 

(1) Includes 9 states.

 

 

 

 

(2) Includes 123 wireless communication towers acquired as part of the acquisitions of Hunt and Southern Light.

 

Item 3. Legal Proceedings.

In the ordinary course of our business, we are subject to claims and administrative proceedings, none of which we believe are material or would be expected to have, individually or in the aggregate, a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, cash flows or results of operations.

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Pursuant to the Separation and Distribution Agreement, Windstream has agreed to indemnify us (including our subsidiaries, directors, officers, employees and agents and certain other related parties) for any liability arising from or relating to legal proceedings involving Windstream's telecommunications business prior to the Spin-Off, and, pursuant to the Master Lease, Windstream has agreed to indemnify us for, among other things, any use, misuse, maintenance or repair by Windstream with respect to the Distribution Systems. Windstream is currently a party to various legal actions and administrative proceedings, including various claims arising in the ordinary course of its telecommunications business, which are subject to the indemnities provided by Windstream to us. While these actions and proceedings are not believed to be material, individually or in the aggregate, the ultimate outcome of these matters cannot be predicted. The resolution of any such legal proceedings, either individually or in the aggregate, could have a material adverse effect on Windstream's business, financial position or results of operations, which, in turn, could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial position or results of operations if Windstream is unable to meet their indemnification obligations.

Item 4. Mine Safety Disclosures.

None

 

 

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PART II

Item 5. Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities.

Market Information

Our common stock is traded on the NASDAQ Global Select Market under the symbol “UNIT.” It has been our policy to declare quarterly dividends to common shareholders so as to comply with the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code governing REITs. The following table sets forth, for the periods indicated, the high and low sales prices per share of our common stock as reported on the NASDAQ Global Select Market, and the cash dividends declared per common share:

 

2017

 

High

 

 

Low

 

 

Per Share

Declared

 

Quarter ended March 31

 

$

29.65

 

 

$

25.20

 

 

$

0.60

 

Quarter ended June 30

 

$

27.78

 

 

$

23.15

 

 

$

0.60

 

Quarter ended September 30

 

$

26.55

 

 

$

13.81

 

 

$

0.60

 

Quarter ended December 31

 

$

18.64

 

 

$

14.18

 

 

$

0.60

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2016

 

High

 

 

Low

 

 

Per Share

Declared

 

Quarter ended March 31

 

$

22.91

 

 

$

15.13

 

 

$

0.60

 

Quarter ended June 30

 

$

29.57

 

 

$

21.63

 

 

$

0.60

 

Quarter ended September 30

 

$

32.73

 

 

$

28.71

 

 

$

0.60

 

Quarter ended December 31

 

$

31.54

 

 

$

22.50

 

 

$

0.60

 

 

Holders

As of February 16, 2018, the closing price of our common stock was $16.13 per share as reported on the NASDAQ Global Select Market. As of February 16, 2018, we had 175,428,601 outstanding shares of common stock, 22,644 record holders and approximately 182,829 beneficial owners of our common stock.

Dividends (Distributions)

Distributions with respect to our common stock is characterized for federal income tax purposes as taxable ordinary dividends, capital gains dividends, non-dividend distribution or a combination thereof. For the years ended December 31, 2017 and 2016 and from April 24, 2015 to December 31, 2015 our common stock distribution per share was $2.40, $2.40, and $1.04, respectively, characterized as follows:

 

 

 

Year Ended December 31,

 

 

Period from

 

 

 

2017

 

 

2016

 

 

April 24 - December 31, 2015

 

Ordinary dividends

 

$

1.22

 

 

$

1.31

 

 

$

0.87

 

Non-dividend distributions

 

 

1.18

 

 

 

1.09

 

 

 

0.17

 

Total

 

$

2.40

 

 

$

2.40

 

 

$

1.04

 

 

It is expected that our dividend will be $2.40 per share per annum, subject to approval of our board of directors.

 

Stock Performance

 

The following graph shows a comparison from April 20, 2015 (the date our common stock commenced trading on the NASDAQ Global Select Market) through December 31, 2017 of the cumulative total return for our common stock, the Standard & Poor's 400 Stock Index (S&P 400 Index), and the MSCI US REIT Index. The graph assumes that $100 was invested at the market open on April 20, 2015 and that all dividends were reinvested in the common

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stock of Uniti, the S&P 400 Index and the MSCI US REIT Index. The stock price performance of the following graph is not necessarily indicative of future stock price performance.

 

 

Cumulative Total Stockholder Returns

Based on Investment of $100.00 Beginning on April 20, 2015

 

 

4/20/2015

 

 

12/31/2015

 

 

12/31/2016

 

 

12/31/2017

 

Uniti Group Inc.

 

$

100.00

 

 

$

72.33

 

 

$

107.65

 

 

$

84.94

 

S&P 400 Index

 

 

100.00

 

 

 

92.56

 

 

 

111.76

 

 

 

129.90

 

MSCI US REIT Index

 

 

100.00

 

 

 

100.78

 

 

 

109.46

 

 

 

115.08

 

Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities

The table below provides information regarding shares withheld from Uniti employees to satisfy minimum statutory tax withholding obligations arising from the vesting of restricted stock granted under the Uniti Group Inc. 2015 Equity Incentive Plan. The shares of common stock withheld to satisfy tax withholding obligations may be deemed purchases of such shares required to be disclosed pursuant to this Item 5.

Period

 

Total Number of Shares Purchased(1)

 

Average Price Paid per Share(2)

 

Total Number of Shares Purchased as Part of Publicly Announced Plans or Programs

 

Maximum Number of Shares that May Yet Be Purchased Under the Plans or Programs

 

October 1, 2017 to October 31, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 1, 2017 to November 30, 2017

 

 

474

 

 

16.54

 

 

 

 

 

December 1, 2017 to December 31, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total

 

 

474

 

$

16.54

 

 

 

 

 

(1)

Excludes 21,504 shares withheld related to awards of Uniti restricted stock held by current Windstream employees granted in connection with the Spin-Off accordance with the Employee Matters

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Agreement.  Additional information regarding the Employee Matters Agreement is contained in Note 11 – Related Party Transactions of the Notes to the Consolidated Financial Statements.

(2)

The weighted-average price per share is the weighted-average of the fair market prices at which we calculated the number of shares withheld to cover tax withholdings for the employees.

Item 6. Selected Financial Data.

The following table sets forth selected financial data for Uniti on a consolidated and combined historical basis as of the dates and for the years indicated.

Prior to April 24, 2015, we did not operate the Consumer CLEC Business separately from Windstream, nor did we commence our leasing business. The selected historical financial data as of December 31, 2014 and 2013 and for the period from January 1, 2015 to April 24, 2015 and the years ended December 31, 2014 and 2013 has been derived from the audited financial statements of the Consumer CLEC Business and Distribution Systems.

The following should be read in conjunction with the combined financial statements, accompanying notes and Management's Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations, each of which are included elsewhere in this Form 10-K.

 

 

 

Year Ended December 31,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Year Ended December 31,

 

(Thousands, except per share data)

 

2017

 

 

2016

 

 

April 24 - December 31, 2015

 

 

January 1 - April 24, 2015

 

 

2014

 

 

2013

 

Statement of Income Data:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total revenue(1)

 

$

916,032

 

 

$

770,408

 

 

$

476,314

 

 

$

10,149

 

 

$

36,015

 

 

$

45,126

 

Interest expense

 

 

305,994

 

 

 

275,394

 

 

 

181,797

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

Net (loss) income attributable to common shareholders

 

 

(16,552

)

 

 

(5,497

)

 

 

23,718

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

Earnings per common share - basic

 

 

(0.10

)

 

 

(0.04

)

 

 

0.16

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

Earnings per common share - diluted

 

$

(0.13

)

 

$

(0.04

)

 

$

0.16

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

Balance Sheet Data:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total assets(2)

 

$

4,330,082

 

 

$

3,318,752

 

 

$

2,542,636

 

 

*

 

 

$

2,588,450

 

 

$

2,704,882

 

Notes and other debt(3)

 

 

4,539,026

 

 

 

4,082,749

 

 

 

3,505,228

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

Total shareholders' (deficit) equity(4)

 

 

(1,207,142

)

 

 

(1,402,445

)

 

 

(1,166,906

)

 

*

 

 

 

2,580,565

 

 

 

2,695,223

 

Other Data:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Net cash provided by operating activities

 

$

405,260

 

 

$

375,988

 

 

$

293,208

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

Net cash used in investing activities

 

 

(1,019,408

)

 

 

(535,231

)

 

 

(1,079,442

)

 

*

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

Net cash provided by financing activities

 

 

501,967

 

 

 

188,766

 

 

 

928,714

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

Dividends paid

 

 

400,210

 

 

 

367,830

 

 

 

156,854

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

Dividends declared per common share

 

 

2.40

 

 

 

2.40

 

 

 

1.64

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

Funds from operations ("FFO")(5)

 

 

352,477

 

 

 

346,051

 

 

 

259,829

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

Diluted FFO per common share

 

 

2.09

 

 

 

2.27

 

 

 

1.73

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

Adjusted funds from operations ("AFFO")(5)

 

 

424,824

 

 

 

398,537

 

 

 

267,077

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

Diluted AFFO per common share

 

$

2.51

 

 

$

2.61

 

 

$

1.78

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

 

* Information not applicable for periods presented

(1)

For periods prior to April 24, 2015, amounts represent revenues of the Consumer CLEC Business as an integrated operation within Windstream.

(2)

As of December 31, 2014 and 2013 amounts represent the combined assets of the Consumer CLEC Business and the Distribution Systems.  

(3)

As of December 31, 2017 and 2016, amount includes $56.3 million and $54.5 million of capital lease obligations, respectively.

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(4)

As of December 31, 2014 and 2013 amounts include the net assets contributed of the Consumer CLEC Business and the Distribution Systems.

(5)

For a more detailed discussion and reconciliation of FFO and AFFO, see “Non-GAAP Financial Measures” in Item 7.

 

 

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Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations.

The following management’s discussion and analysis of financial condition and results of operations describes the principal factors affecting the results of our operations, financial condition, and changes in financial condition, as well as our critical accounting estimates.

Overview

Company Description

Uniti Group Inc. (the “Company”, “Uniti”, “we”, “us” or “our”) is an independent, internally managed real estate investment trust (“REIT”) engaged in the acquisition and construction of mission critical infrastructure in the communications industry. We are principally focused on acquiring and constructing fiber optic broadband networks, wireless communications towers, copper and coaxial broadband networks and data centers.

On April 24, 2015, we were separated and spun-off (the “Spin-Off”) from Windstream Holdings, Inc. (“Windstream Holdings” and together with its subsidiaries, “Windstream”) pursuant to which Windstream contributed certain telecommunications network assets, including fiber and copper networks and other real estate (the “Distribution Systems”) and a small consumer competitive local exchange carrier (“CLEC”) business (the “Consumer CLEC Business”), to Uniti and Uniti issued common stock and indebtedness and paid cash obtained from borrowings under Uniti’s senior credit facilities to Windstream. In connection with the Spin-Off, we entered into a long-term exclusive triple-net lease (the “Master Lease”) with Windstream, pursuant to which a substantial portion of our real property is leased to Windstream and from which substantially all of our leasing revenues are currently derived.

Uniti operates as a REIT for U.S. federal income tax purposes. As a REIT, the Company is generally not subject to U.S. federal income taxes on income generated by its REIT operations, which includes income derived from the Master Lease. We have elected to treat the subsidiaries through which we operate our fiber business, Uniti Fiber, and Talk America Services, LLC, which operates the Consumer CLEC Business (“Talk America”), as taxable REIT subsidiaries (“TRSs”). TRSs enable us to engage in activities that result in income that does not constitute qualifying income for a REIT. Our TRSs are subject to U.S. federal, state and local corporate income taxes.

The Company operates through a customary up-REIT structure, pursuant to which we hold substantially all of our assets through a partnership, Uniti Group LP, a Delaware limited partnership (the “Operating Partnership”), that we control as general partner. This structure is intended to facilitate future acquisition opportunities by providing the Company with the ability to use common units of the Operating Partnership as a tax-efficient acquisition currency. As of the date of this report, we are the sole general partner of the Operating Partnership and own approximately 97.7% of the partnership interests in the Operating Partnership.

We expect to grow and diversify our portfolio and tenant base by pursuing a range of transaction structures with communication service providers, including, (i) sale leaseback transactions, whereby we acquire existing infrastructure assets from third parties, including communication service providers, and lease them back on a long-term triple net basis; (ii) whole company acquisitions, which may include the use of one or more TRSs that are permitted under the tax laws to acquire and operate non-REIT businesses and assets subject to certain limitations; (iii) capital investment financing, whereby we offer communication service providers a cost efficient method of raising funds for discrete capital investments to upgrade or expand their network; and (iv) mergers and acquisitions financing, whereby we facilitate mergers and acquisition transactions as a capital partner.

We manage our operations as four reportable business segments in addition to our corporate operations:

Leasing Segment: Represents our REIT operations and includes the results from our leasing business, Uniti Leasing, which is engaged in the acquisition of mission-critical communications assets and leasing them to anchor customers on either an exclusive or shared-tenant basis.

Fiber Infrastructure Segment: Represents the operations of our fiber business, Uniti Fiber, which is a leading provider of infrastructure solutions, including cell site backhaul and dark fiber, to the telecommunications industry.

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Towers Segment: Represents the operations of our towers business, Uniti Towers, through which we acquire and construct tower and tower-related real estate in the United States and Latin America.

Consumer CLEC Segment: Represents the operations of Talk America through which we operate the Consumer CLEC Business, that prior to the Spin-Off was reported as an integrated operation within Windstream. Talk America provides local telephone, high-speed internet and long distance services to customers in the eastern and central United States.

Corporate Operations: Represents our corporate and back office functions. Certain costs and expenses, primarily related to headcount, insurance, professional fees and similar charges, that are directly attributable to operations of our business segments are allocated to the respective segments.  

We evaluate the performance of each segment based on Adjusted EBITDA, which is a segment performance measure we define as net income determined in accordance with GAAP, before interest expense, provision for income taxes, depreciation and amortization, stock-based compensation expense, the impact, which may be recurring in nature, of transaction and integration related expenses, the write off of unamortized deferred financing costs, costs incurred as a result of the early repayment of debt, changes in the fair value of contingent consideration and financial instruments, and other similar items. For more information on Adjusted EBITDA, see “Non-GAAP Financial Measures.” Detailed information about our segments can be found in Note 13 to our consolidated financial statements contained in Part II, Item 8 Financial Statements and Supplementary Data.

Significant Business Developments

Tax Reform.  On December 22, 2017, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (the “Act”) was signed into law making significant changes to the Internal Revenue Code. Changes include, but are not limited to, a corporate tax rate decrease from 35% to 21% effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, the transition of U.S international taxation from a worldwide tax system to a territorial system, and a one-time transition tax on the mandatory deemed repatriation of cumulative foreign earnings as of December 31, 2017. We have calculated our best estimate of the impact of the Act in our year end income tax provision in accordance with our understanding of the Act and guidance available as of the date of this filing and as a result have recorded $17.4 million as additional income tax benefit in the fourth quarter of 2017, the period in which the legislation was enacted. The provisional amount relates to the remeasurement of certain deferred tax assets and liabilities, based on the rates at which they are expected to reverse in the future.

Acquisition of Southern Light, LLC. On July 3, 2017, we completed the previously announced acquisition of Southern Light, LLC (“Southern Light”). We acquired all of the outstanding membership interests of Southern Light for approximately $638 million in cash, including the payoff of existing indebtedness and unpaid transaction expenses, and the issuance of 2.5 million common units in the Operating Partnership with an acquisition date fair value of $64.3 million. Southern Light is a leading provider of data transport services along the Gulf Coast region serving twelve attractive Tier II and Tier III markets across Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Southern Light’s dense regional fiber network comprises nearly 540,000 fiber strand miles, 5,700 fiber route miles, and over 4,500 on-net locations.  The results of operations of Southern Light are reflected in the Fiber Infrastructure segment beginning July 3, 2017.

Acquisition of Hunt Telecommunications, LLC. On July 3, 2017, we completed the previously announced acquisition of Hunt Telecommunications, LLC (“Hunt”). The Company acquired all of the outstanding equity interests of Hunt for approximately $129 million in cash, including the payoff of existing indebtedness and unpaid transaction expenses, and approximately 1.6 million units in the Operating Partnership with an acquisition date fair value of $41.6 million. Additional contingent consideration of up to $17 million, with an acquisition date fair value of $16.4 million will be paid upon the achievement of certain defined financial revenue milestones. Hunt is a leading provider of data transport to K-12 schools and government agencies with a dense fiber network in Louisiana.  The results of operations of Hunt are reflected in the Fiber Infrastructure segment beginning July 3, 2017.

up-REIT Reorganization.  On May 9, 2017, we completed our reorganization (the “up-REIT Reorganization”) to operate through a customary “up-REIT” structure. Under this structure, the Operating Partnership, which we control as a general partner, holds substantially all of our assets. The financial position and results of operations of the

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Operating Partnership do not include the Consumer CLEC Business because Talk America is a direct, wholly-owned subsidiary of Uniti. This structure is intended to facilitate future acquisition opportunities by providing the Company with the ability to use common units of the Operating Partnership (the “OP Units”) as a tax-efficient acquisition currency for future acquisitions of assets or entities. Each OP Unit is exchangeable on a one-for-one basis for shares of our common stock or, at our election, cash of equivalent value.

Issuance of Senior Unsecured Notes. On May 8, 2017, the Company, CSL Capital, LLC and Uniti Fiber Holdings Inc. co-issued $200 million aggregate principal amount of 7.125% Senior Unsecured Notes due December 15, 2024 (the “May 2017 Notes”).  The proceeds from the offering were used to fund a portion of the cash consideration payable in connection with the acquisition of Southern Light. In connection with the up-REIT Reorganization on May 9, 2017, the Operating Partnership replaced the Company as a co-issuer of the May 2017 Notes, and the Company and Uniti Group Finance Inc. became guarantors of the May 2017 Notes. On August 11, 2017, the May 2017 Notes were mandatorily exchanged for notes issued as “additional notes” under the indenture governing our 7.125% Senior Unsecured Notes due December 15, 2024 (the “2024 Notes”).

Issuance of Common Stock. On April 25, 2017, we issued 19.5 million shares of our common stock at a public offering price of $26.50, resulting in proceeds to the Company of $499 million, net of underwriting discounts and commissions, which were used to fund a portion of the cash consideration payable in connection with the acquisitions of Southern Light and Hunt.

Acquisition of NMS. On January 31, 2017, we completed the previously announced acquisition of Network Management Holdings LTD (‘‘NMS’’). At close, NMS owned and operated 366 wireless communications towers in Latin America with an additional 105 build-to-suit tower sites under development. The NMS portfolio spans three Latin America countries with 212 towers in Mexico, 54 in Nicaragua, and 100 in Colombia. The consideration for the 366 wireless towers currently in operation was $62.6 million, which was funded through cash on hand. Under the terms of the purchase agreement, we will acquire the towers under development when construction is completed. As of December 31, 2017, construction was completed on 50 of the 105 towers that were under development at the time of the NMS acquisition, and we acquired the completed towers pursuant to the purchase agreement for approximately $5.1 million.  The results of operations of NMS are reflected in the Towers segment beginning January 31, 2017.

Comparison of the years ended December 31, 2017 and 2016

The following tables sets forth, for the periods indicated, our results of operations expressed as dollars and as a percentage of total revenues:

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(Thousands)

 

Year Ended

December 31, 2017

 

% of

Revenues

 

 

Year Ended

December 31, 2016

 

% of

Revenues

 

Revenues:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leasing

 

$

685,099

 

74.8%

 

 

$

676,868

 

87.8%

 

Fiber Infrastructure

 

 

202,791

 

22.1%

 

 

 

70,568

 

9.2%

 

Tower

 

 

10,055

 

1.1%

 

 

 

500

 

0.1%

 

Consumer CLEC

 

 

18,087

 

2.0%

 

 

 

22,472

 

2.9%

 

Total revenues

 

 

916,032

 

100.0%

 

 

 

770,408

 

100.0%

 

Costs and Expenses:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interest expense

 

 

305,994

 

33.4%

 

 

 

275,394

 

35.7%

 

Depreciation and amortization

 

 

434,205

 

47.4%

 

 

 

375,970

 

48.8%

 

General and administrative expense

 

 

72,045

 

7.9%

 

 

 

35,402

 

4.6%

 

Operating expense (exclusive of depreciation and amortization)

 

 

102,176

 

11.2%

 

 

 

49,668

 

6.4%

 

Transaction related costs

 

 

38,005

 

4.1%

 

 

 

33,669

 

4.4%

 

Other expense

 

 

11,284

 

1.2%

 

 

 

-

 

0.0%

 

Total costs and expenses

 

 

963,709

 

105.2%

 

 

 

770,103

 

100.0%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Loss) income before income taxes

 

 

(47,677

)

(5.2%)

 

 

 

305

 

0.0%

 

Income tax (benefit) expense

 

 

(38,849

)

(4.2%)

 

 

 

517

 

0.1%

 

Net (loss)

 

 

(8,828

)

(1.0%)

 

 

 

(212

)

(0.0%)

 

Net income attributable to noncontrolling interests

 

 

611

 

0.1%

 

 

 

-

 

0.0%

 

Net (loss) attributable to shareholders

 

 

(9,439

)

(1.0%)

 

 

 

(212

)

(0.0%)

 

Participating securities' share in earnings

 

 

(1,509

)

(0.2%)

 

 

 

(1,557

)

(0.2%)

 

Dividends declared on convertible preferred stock

 

 

(2,624

)

(0.3%)

 

 

 

(1,743

)

(0.2%)

 

Amortization of discount on convertible preferred stock

 

 

(2,980

)

(0.3%)

 

 

 

(1,985

)

(0.3%)

 

Net (loss) attributable to common shareholders

 

$

(16,552

)

(1.8%)

 

 

$

(5,497

)

(0.7%)

 

30


Table of Contents

 

The following table sets forth, for the years ended December 31, 2017 and 2016, revenues and Adjusted EBITDA of our reportable segments:

 

 

 

Year Ended December 31, 2017

 

(Thousands)

 

Leasing

 

 

Fiber Infrastructure

 

 

Towers

 

 

Consumer CLEC

 

 

Corporate

 

 

Total of Reportable Segments

 

Revenues

 

$

685,099

 

 

$

202,791

 

 

$

10,055

 

 

$

18,087

 

 

$

-

 

 

$

916,032

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adjusted EBITDA

 

$

683,651

 

 

$

83,987

 

 

$

(831

)

 

$

4,556

 

 

$

(21,839

)

 

$

749,524

 

Adjusted EBITDA margin

 

 

99.8%

 

 

 

41.4%

 

 

 

(8.3%)

 

 

 

25.2%

 

 

-

 

 

 

81.8%

 

Less:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interest expense

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

305,994

 

Depreciation and amortization

 

 

347,999

 

 

 

78,307

 

 

 

4,907

 

 

 

2,607

 

 

 

385

 

 

 

434,205

 

Other expense

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11,284

 

Transaction related costs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

38,005

 

Stock-based compensation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7,713

 

Income tax benefit