Company Quick10K Filing
Uniti Group
Price7.80 EPS0
Shares192 P/E40
MCap1,499 P/FCF3
Net Debt5,033 EBIT334
TEV6,531 TEV/EBIT20
TTM 2019-09-30, in MM, except price, ratios
10-K 2020-12-31 Filed 2021-03-05
10-Q 2020-09-30 Filed 2020-11-09
10-Q 2020-06-30 Filed 2020-08-10
10-Q 2020-03-31 Filed 2020-05-11
10-K 2019-12-31 Filed 2020-03-12
10-Q 2019-09-30 Filed 2019-11-07
10-Q 2019-06-30 Filed 2019-08-08
10-Q 2019-03-31 Filed 2019-05-09
10-K 2018-12-31 Filed 2019-03-18
10-Q 2018-09-30 Filed 2018-11-01
10-Q 2018-06-30 Filed 2018-08-09
10-Q 2018-03-31 Filed 2018-05-10
10-K 2017-12-31 Filed 2018-03-01
10-Q 2017-09-30 Filed 2017-11-02
10-Q 2017-06-30 Filed 2017-08-03
10-Q 2017-03-31 Filed 2017-05-04
10-K 2016-12-31 Filed 2017-02-23
10-Q 2016-09-30 Filed 2016-11-14
10-Q 2016-06-30 Filed 2016-08-11
10-Q 2016-03-31 Filed 2016-05-12
10-K 2015-12-31 Filed 2016-03-07
10-Q 2015-09-30 Filed 2015-11-13
10-Q 2015-06-30 Filed 2015-08-13
10-Q 2015-03-31 Filed 2015-05-13
8-K 2020-11-09
8-K 2020-10-09
8-K 2020-09-18
8-K 2020-09-09
8-K 2020-08-10
8-K 2020-06-22
8-K 2020-05-14
8-K 2020-05-12
8-K 2020-05-11
8-K 2020-03-16
8-K 2020-03-12
8-K 2020-03-04
8-K 2020-03-02
8-K 2020-02-10
8-K 2020-02-05
8-K 2019-11-12
8-K 2019-11-07
8-K 2019-10-01
8-K 2019-08-08
8-K 2019-07-02
8-K 2019-06-25
8-K 2019-06-24
8-K 2019-06-24
8-K 2019-06-20
8-K 2019-05-16
8-K 2019-05-09
8-K 2019-04-22
8-K 2019-03-20
8-K 2019-03-04
8-K 2018-12-14
8-K 2018-11-01
8-K 2018-09-14
8-K 2018-08-09
8-K 2018-05-17
8-K 2018-05-10
8-K 2018-03-28
8-K 2018-03-01
8-K 2018-02-06

UNIT 10K Annual Report

Part I
Item 1. Business.
Item 1A. Risk Factors.
Item 1B. Unresolved Staff Comments.
Item 2. Properties.
Item 3. Legal Proceedings.
Item 4. Mine Safety Disclosures.
Part II
Item 5. Market for Registrant's Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities.
Item 6. Selected Financial Data.
Item 7. Management's Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations.
Item 7A. Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk.
Item 8. Financial Statements and Supplementary Data.
Note 1. Organization and Description of Business
Note 2. Basis of Presentation and Consolidation
Note 3. Summary of Significant Accounting Policies
Note 4. Revenues
Note 5. Leases
Note 6. Business Combinations, Asset Acquisitions and Dispositions
Note 7. Assets and Liabilities Held for Sale
Note 8. Investment in Unconsolidated Entities
Note 9. Fair Value of Financial Instruments
Note 10. Property, Plant and Equipment
Note 11. Derivative Instruments and Hedging Activities
Note 12. Goodwill and Intangible Assets
Note 13. Notes and Other Debt
Note 14. Stock - Based Compensation
Note 15. Earnings per Share
Note 16. Segment Information
Note 17. Commitments and Contingencies
Note 18. Accumulated Other Comprehensive Income
Note 19. Income Taxes
Note 20. Supplemental Cash Flow Information
Note 21. Capital Stock
Note 22. Dividends (Distributions)
Note 23. Employee Benefit Plan
Note 24. Subsequent Events
Item 9. Changes in and Disagreements with Accountants on Accounting and Financial Disclosure.
Item 9A. Controls and Procedures.
Item 9B. Other Information.
Part III
Item 10. Directors, Executive Officers and Corporate Governance.
Item 11. Executive Compensation.
Item 12. Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management and Related Stockholder Matters.
Item 13. Certain Relationships and Related Transactions, and Director Independence.
Item 14. Principal Accounting Fees and Services.
Part IV
Item 15. Exhibits, Financial Statement Schedules.
Item 16. Form 10 - K Summary
Note 1. Background and Basis of Presentation
Note 2. Subsidiary Transactions
EX-21.1 unit-ex211_11.htm
EX-23.1 unit-ex231_10.htm
EX-23.2 unit-ex232_399.htm
EX-31.1 unit-ex311_6.htm
EX-31.2 unit-ex312_7.htm
EX-32.1 unit-ex321_9.htm
EX-32.2 unit-ex322_12.htm

Uniti Group Earnings 2020-12-31

Balance SheetIncome StatementCash Flow
10.07.75.33.00.6-1.72013201520172020
Assets, Equity
0.30.20.10.1-0.0-0.12013201520172020
Rev, G Profit, Net Income
1.10.70.3-0.1-0.5-0.92013201520172020
Ops, Inv, Fin

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Table of Contents

  

 

 

 

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, 2020

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: (501850-0820

 

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

 

Title of each class

Trading Symbol

Name of each exchange

on which registered

Common Stock, $0.0001 Par Value

UNIT

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 every Interactive Data File required to be submitted 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 such files).    Yes      No  

Indicate by check mark whether the Registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, a smaller reporting company, or an 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

 

☐  

  

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 has filed a report on and attestation to its management’s assessment of

the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting under Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (15 U.S.C.7262(b)) by the registered public accounting firm that prepared or issued its audit report.

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 Global Select Market on June 30, 2020 was $1,135,058,547

The number of shares of the Registrant’s common stock outstanding as of February 26, 2021 was 232,897,213.

DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE

Portions of the Registrant’s definitive proxy statement relating to the 2021 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

 

14

Item 1B.

 

Unresolved Staff Comments

 

23

Item 2.

 

Properties

 

24

Item 3.

 

Legal Proceedings

 

25

Item 4.

 

Mine Safety Disclosures

 

25

 

 

 

 

 

PART II

 

 

 

 

Item 5.

 

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

 

26

Item 6.

 

Selected Financial Data

 

28

Item 7.

 

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

 

29

 

 

1.   Overview

2.   Results of Operations

3.   Non-GAAP Financial Measures

4.   Liquidity and Capital Resources

 

29

35

44

51

Item 7A.

 

Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk

 

60

Item 8.

 

Financial Statements and Supplementary Data

 

61

Item 9.

 

Changes in and Disagreements With Accountants on Accounting and Financial Disclosure

 

124

Item 9A.

 

Controls and Procedures

 

124

Item 9B.

 

Other Information

 

125

 

 

 

 

 

PART III

 

 

 

 

Item 10.

 

Directors, Executive Officers and Corporate Governance

 

126

Item 11.

 

Executive Compensation

 

126

Item 12.

 

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

 

126

Item 13.

 

Certain Relationships and Related Transactions, and Director Independence

 

127

Item 14.

 

Principal Accounting Fees and Services

 

127

 

 

 

 

 

PART IV

 

 

 

 

Item 15.

 

Exhibits, Financial Statement Schedules

 

128

Item 16.

 

Form 10-K Summary

 

134

 

 

 

ii


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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 settlement we have entered into with Windstream Holdings, Inc. (together with Windstream Holdings II, LLC, its successor in interest, and its subsidiaries, “Windstream”); the future prospects and financial health of Windstream; our ability to delever and achieve the ‘covenant reversion date’ under our 7.875% senior secured notes due 2025, which would permit us to pay additional dividends to shareholders; our expectations about our ability to maintain our status as a real estate investment trust (a “REIT”); our expectations regarding filing an amendment to this Form 10-K to include Windstream’s audited financial statements as of and for the year ended December 31, 2020; our expectations regarding the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on our results of operations and financial condition, including the potential need to perform an interim goodwill analysis and report an impairment charge related thereto; our expectations regarding the effect of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”), the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (the “2021 Appropriations Act”) and other tax-related legislation on our tax position; our expectations regarding the future growth and demand of the telecommunication industry, future financing plans, business strategies, growth prospects, operating and financial performance, and our future liquidity needs and access to capital; expectations regarding future deployment of  fiber strand miles and small cell networks and recognition of revenue related thereto; expectations regarding levels of capital expenditures; expectations regarding the deductibility of goodwill for tax purposes; expectations regarding reclassification of accumulated other comprehensive income (loss) related to derivatives to interest expense; expectations regarding the amortization of intangible assets; our expectations regarding remediation of the material weakness in our internal control over financial reporting as discussed in Part II, Item 9A of this Annual Report on Form 10-K; our expectations regarding the wind down of the Consumer CLEC business; 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 future prospects of our largest customer, Windstream following its emergence from bankruptcy;

 

adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our employees, our business, the business of our customers and other business partners and the global financial markets;

 

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; 

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our ability to generate sufficient cash flows to service our outstanding indebtedness and fund our capital funding commitments

 

our ability to access debt and equity capital markets; 

 

adverse impacts of changes to our business, economic trends or key assumptions regarding our estimates of fair value, including potential impacts of recent developments surrounding Windstream that could result in an impairment charge in the future, which could have a significant impact to our reported earnings;

 

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 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 2017 U.S. tax reform legislation, the CARES Act, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the 2021 Appropriations Act; 

 

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

 

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; 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.

Overview

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, copper and coaxial broadband networks and data centers.

As of December 31, 2020, Uniti and its subsidiaries own over 123,000 fiber network route miles, representing approximately 6.9 million fiber strand miles, approximately 230,000 route miles of copper cable lines, central office land and buildings across 44 states and beneficial rights to permits, pole agreements and easements.  Refer to Part I, Item 2 Properties of this Annual Report for a more detailed breakdown of our telecommunications properties.

For the year ended December 31, 2020, we had revenues of $1.1 billion, net loss attributable to common shareholders of $707.4 million, Funds From Operations (“FFO”) loss of $548.2 million and Adjusted Funds From Operations (“AFFO”) of $389.5 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. We have historically managed our operations as four reportable business segments (in addition to our corporate operations), but due to the sale of our towers business and wind down of the Consumer CLEC Business, starting in 2021, we will manage our operations focused on our two primary businesses, Leasing and Fiber Infrastructure, which are described in more detail in Note 16 to our consolidated financial statements contained in Part II, Item 8 Financial Statements and Supplementary Data.

Refer to Part II, Item 7 Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations—Overview—Significant Business Developments, of this Annual Report for information regarding significant developments in our business in 2020.

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 significant opportunities for us as an 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 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 dividend, and (iv) maintaining our financial strength and

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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 actively seek 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 also is designed to expand our mix of tenants and other real property and will reduce our revenue concentration with Windstream Holdings, Inc. (“Windstream Holdings” together with Windstream Holdings II, LLC, its successor in interest, and subsidiaries, “Windstream”), our anchor tenant. 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 options.  Communications service providers and other enterprises whose services and businesses require substantial amounts of bandwidth are increasingly looking 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 to Existing and New Tenants for Improvements of Infrastructure Assets

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

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 attractive returns for Uniti.  For example, under the leases with our anchor tenant, Windstream, we have agreed to fund up to $1.75 billion in value accretive upgrades to the network we lease to Windstream in exchange for an 8% return and future rental rate increases. For more information on this program with Windstream, refer to Part II, Item 7 Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations, of this Annual Report.

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

We believe Uniti can provide cost efficient funds to potential acquirers in the communication service sector, and thereby facilitate M&A transactions as a capital partner, including by partnering with operators through use of “OpCo-PropCo” structures, pursuant to which we acquire the underlying network and other assets and the operator acquires the operations.

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.

 

 

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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, 2020, we had $77.5 million of unrestricted cash and cash equivalents. As of December 31, 2020, with the exception of our revolving credit facility, all of our debt is fixed-rate debt.

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 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.

Large Scale Anchor Tenant

Windstream, as our anchor tenant, provides us with a base of rent revenues as an initial platform for us to grow and diversify our portfolio and tenant base.  

Windstream provides advanced network communications and technology solutions for businesses across the United States. Windstream also offers broadband, entertainment and security solutions to consumers and small businesses primarily in rural areas. Windstream continues to operate the telecommunications network assets, including fiber and copper networks and other real estate (the “Distribution Systems”) which were contributed to us in our spin-off from Windstream in 2015 (the “Spin-off”), 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 37 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.

For a more detailed discussion of Windstream’s emergence from bankruptcy and our settlement with Windstream refer to Part II, Item 7 Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations—Overview—Significant Business Developments, of this Annual Report.

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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. Our senior management team has extensive experience managing telecommunications operations, consummating mergers and acquisitions and accessing both debt and equity capital markets to fund growth and maintain a flexible capital structure.

Our Business

Our primary lines of business are Uniti Leasing and Uniti Fiber, which are described in further detail below. For a more detailed discussion of our other reportable segments, including our former business lines Uniti Towers and the Consumer Competitive Local Exchange Carrier (“CLEC”) Business (the “Consumer CLEC Business”), and other recent business developments related thereto see refer to Part II, Item 7 Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations—Overview—Significant Business Developments, of this Annual Report.

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, a substantial portion of Uniti Leasing’s revenue is rental revenues from leasing the Distribution Systems to Windstream as described below in the section titled “Significant Customers”.  We believe our attractive cost of capital and advantageous 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.

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 fiber is the mission-critical focal point in the modern communications infrastructure industry and that Uniti Fiber will accelerate our growth and diversification strategy and expand our relationships with high quality national and international wireless carriers.  

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At December 31, 2020, Uniti Fiber’s revenues under contract were over $1.1 billion, with a network consisting of approximately 2.4 million strand miles of fiber and approximately 26,300 customer connections.  Results for Uniti Fiber are reported in our consolidated financial statements in our Fiber Infrastructure business segment.

The Company

Uniti Group Inc. was incorporated in the state of Maryland on September 4, 2014 and was separated and spun-off from Windstream on April 24, 2015.

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.  We have elected to treat the subsidiaries through which we operate our fiber business, Uniti Fiber, certain aspects of our former towers business, Uniti Towers, and Talk America Services, LLC, which operated 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 December 31, 2020, we are the sole general partner of the Operating Partnership and own approximately 98.5% of the partnership interests in the Operating Partnership. In addition, beginning on December 31, 2019, we undertook a series of transactions, including the issuance by one of our subsidiaries of convertible preferred stock to third parties with an aggregate liquidation value of $125,000, to permit us to hold certain of our assets indirectly through one of our subsidiaries taxed as a REIT, which is also expected to facilitate future acquisition opportunities.

Human Capital Management

On December 31, 2020, we employed 787 people, of whom 492 work directly developing and maintaining network operations, 83 in sales and sales support, 74 in shared services, 71 accounting and finance related positions and 67 in operations support roles.  None of our employees are subject to a collective bargaining agreement.

Our employees are our most important resources and their success ultimately creates our own. We fuel their success by offering career growth, recognition and appreciation programs, fulfilling work relationships, empowerment, mentoring, and training and development opportunities.  We demonstrate the value we place in our employees financial, physical and emotional health by providing our employees with competitive salaries, health benefits, investment opportunities, vacation options and a generous paid volunteer program, among other benefits.

For the last three years Uniti has been certified as a Great Place to Work®.  Our management team strives to embody and promote our company values of united, necessary, innovative, tenacious, and integrity.  As a certified Great Place to Work®, 94% of our employees say they are proud to work at Uniti and 88% of them agree that Uniti is a great place to work.  We believe our energetic and collaborative work environment are contributing factors to our limited employee turnover and high levels of engagement.

Within our organization, we believe in unity and know that it can only be generated through connection, collaboration and respect.  We are committed to fostering these ideals by hiring, developing and supporting a diverse and inclusive workplace that encourages, supports and celebrates the diverse voices of our team members.  Two women sit on our board of directors and women represent approximately 22% of leadership positions across our company.  Current key initiatives include our Diversity and Inclusion Groups (“DIGs”) which support employees with diverse backgrounds, experiences or characteristics who share a common interest in various topics.  Each DIG is sponsored and supported by senior leaders across the organization.

We value our strong ethical foundation and have instituted policies and procedures designed to preserve and prioritize corporate integrity.  To actively promote honest, ethical and respectful conduct, we engage in a top-down

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approach by requiring our directors and executives to set high standards of integrity, responsibility and transparency.  We insist all employees adhere to a code of conduct that sets standards for appropriate behavior and includes information on preventing, identifying, reporting and stopping any type of discrimination or unethical behavior.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we implemented safety protocols to protect our employees, customers and communities during the pandemic.  These protocols include health and safety training and compliance with social distancing and other health and safety standards as required by federal, state and local government agencies, taking into consideration guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health authorities.  Many of our administrative and operational functions during this time have required modification, including some of our workforce working remotely.  Our experienced teams adapted to the changes in our work environment and have managed our business successfully during this challenging time.  To further support the mental health needs of our employees, we added an employer-paid virtual mental health benefit in addition to our already available Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Our EAP offers free, confidential assessments and short-term counseling to employees.  Together, with our additional virtual mental health benefit, employees have the opportunity to seek in person or virtual assistance with personal and/or work-related problems.

Uniti will continue to seek opportunities to support the overall health and well-being of our employees as we continue to realize significant value for our stockholders, customers and communities.

Significant Customers

For the years ended December 31, 2020, 2019 and 2018, 65.8%, 65.0% and 68.2% of our revenues, respectively, were derived from leasing our Distribution Systems to Windstream Holdings.  

On April 24, 2015, we were separated and spun-off from Windstream pursuant to which Windstream contributed the Distribution Systems and 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 a substantial portion of our leasing revenues are currently derived. In connection with Windstream’s recent emergence from bankruptcy and the implementation of our settlement with Windstream, Uniti and Windstream bifurcated the Master Lease and entered into two structurally similar master leases (collectively, the “Windstream Leases”), which amended and restated the Master Lease in its entirety.  For a more detailed discussion of Windstream’s emergence from bankruptcy and our settlement with Windstream refer to Part II, Item 7 Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations—Overview—Significant Business Developments, of this Annual Report.

Prior to its emergence from bankruptcy on September 21, 2020, Windstream was a publicly traded company subject to the periodic filing requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act”). Windstream historic filings through their quarter ended June 30, 2020 can be found at www.sec.gov. On September 22, 2020, Windstream filed a Form 15 to terminate all filing obligations under Sections 12(g) and 15(d) under the Exchange Act. Windstream has posted certain information regarding its fourth quarter and full year 2020 results on the investor relations page of its website, which can be found at https://investor.windstream.com.  Neither Windstream filings nor the information available on the investor relations page of its website are incorporated by reference in this Annual Report on Form 10-K.

We monitor the credit quality of Windstream through numerous methods, including by (i) reviewing credit ratings of Windstream by nationally recognized credit agencies, (ii) reviewing the financial statements of Windstream that are required to be delivered to us pursuant to the Windstream Leases, (iii) monitoring new reports regarding Windstream and its business, (iv) conducting research to ascertain industry trends potentially affecting Windstream, (v) monitoring Windstream’s compliance with the terms of the Windstream Leases and (vi) monitoring the timeliness of its payments under the Windstream Leases.

As of the date of this Annual Report on Form 10-K, Windstream is current on all lease payments. We note that in August 2020, Moody’s Investor Service assigned a B3 corporate family rating with a stable outlook to Windstream in connection with its post-emergence exit financing. At the same time, S&P Global Ratings assigned Windstream a B- issuer rating with a stable outlook. These ratings were both upgrades from Windstream’s pre-bankruptcy ratings.

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In addition, in order to assist us in our continuing assessment of Windstream’s creditworthiness, we periodically receive certain confidential financial information and metrics from Windstream.  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 this assessment.

Government Regulation, Licensing and Enforcement

U.S. Telecommunications Regulatory Overview

Our subsidiaries and our tenants operate in a regulated market.  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. Federal and state telecommunications laws and regulations are wide-ranging, and violations of them 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 regulation. Changes in laws and regulations and violations of federal or state laws or regulations 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 across all segments 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 assets, we may be required to provide notice and/or obtain prior approval from certain governmental agencies.  Failure to obtain required approvals could subject us to fines or other penalties.

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, contributions to universal service, and other obligations.  Further, the relaxation of regulatory requirements on our competitors, such as those granting us access to incumbent local exchange carrier facilities and/or services or the prices that such carriers may charge for such services or access to their facilities, may also have a detrimental effect on the businesses of our subsidiaries and/or tenants.  

We have sought to structure the operations for our core real estate business in a manner to minimize the likelihood that we may be required to become regulated as a public utility or common carrier by the FCC or PUCs, but a number of our business operations are nonetheless subject to federal, state, and local regulation, and we cannot guarantee that our core real estate business will not become further subject to federal, state, and local regulation in the future.

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. These regulations would have limited the ways that broadband Internet access service providers could structure business arrangements and manage their networks and spurred additional restrictions, including rate regulation, which could adversely affect broadband investment and innovation. In 2017, the FCC voted to return broadband Internet access service to its prior classification as “information services.”  As a result of these decisions, state legislators and governors have

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introduced, and in some cases passed, state laws and executive orders requiring different levels of adherence to “network neutrality” principles for broadband Internet access service providers active in the applicable states. As a result of these laws and regulations, 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.

Communications towers owned by our subsidiaries are subject to federal, state and local regulatory requirements with respect to the registration, siting, construction, lighting, marking and maintenance. 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. Non-compliance with applicable tower-related requirements may lead to monetary penalties or site deconstruction orders.

Towers are also 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 United States and abroad.

Uniti Fiber

Our subsidiaries that compose Uniti Fiber own and operate significant fiber and other communications backhaul facilities throughout various regions of the United States.  The provision of such services is often 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 and other wireless 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.  New fiber network construction is also subject to certain state and local governmental permitting and licensing requirements.  Delays in the local and state permitting process can delay the construction of new facilities.  Failure to abide by permit requirements can subject the company to fines and other penalties.

In some cases, our subsidiaries that compose Uniti Fiber utilize services or facilities of incumbent local exchange carriers through arrangements established under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and FCC regulations.  The FCC has recently issued orders allowing incumbent local exchange carriers to stop offering such elements and/or to increase the rates that they may charge competitive providers for access to such elements.   The loss of these elements, or significant price increases associated with our use of such elements, may increase our costs to maintain and construct new network facilities to replace those we may no longer access, or have other negative effects on our business such as a loss of ability to continue to provide services to certain customers.  

Regulatory Changes

Future revenues, costs, and capital investment in the communication businesses of our tenants, Uniti Fiber, 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, access to unbundled network elements, and other requirements.  Federal and state communications laws and regulations may be amended in the future, and other new laws and regulations 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

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vacated or modified 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 cannot 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 laws and regulations, and their enforcement, involve complex and varied requirements, and many such laws and regulations impose strict liability for violations.  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.

Insurance

We maintain, or will require in our leases (including the Windstream Leases) that our tenants maintain, applicable lines of insurance on our properties and their operations. Under the Windstream Leases, 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 Windstream Leases, 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.

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 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.

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.

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Item 1A. Risk Factors.

Risks Related to Our Business

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the future outbreak of other highly infectious or contagious diseases, could disrupt the operation of our business resulting in adverse impacts to our financial condition, results of operations, and cash flow.

The COVID-19 pandemic has, and another pandemic in the future could, negatively impacted the global economy, disrupted global supply chains and created significant volatility and disruption of financial markets. Given the ongoing and dynamic nature of the circumstances, it is difficult to predict the impact of COVID-19 on us, and there is no guarantee that efforts by us, designed to address adverse impacts of COVID-19, will be effective.

The local governments in some of the markets in which we operate mandated residents to stay at home and temporarily closed businesses that are not considered essential. While some of these measures have been loosened, the ongoing pandemic and COVID-19 outbreaks has resulted in, and may continue to result in, reinstating these measures or implementing new or additional measures. Although our businesses are considered essential, the current COVID-19 pandemic, or a future pandemic, could have material and adverse effects on our ability to successfully operate and on our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows due to, among other factors:

 

significant disruptions or delays in our operations or network performance, as well as network maintenance and construction, testing, supervisory and customer support activities, and inventory and supply procurement;

 

increases in operating costs, inventory shortages and/or a decrease in productivity related to travel bans and social distancing efforts that may delay construction activities or require our vendor and contractors to incur additional costs that may be passed onto us;

 

 

delays in permitting activities due to the shutdown of local permitting authorities;

 

 

a deterioration in our ability to operate in affected areas or delays in the supply of products or services to us from vendors that are needed for our efficient operations could adversely affect our operations;

 

the impact on our contracts with customers and suppliers, including potential disputes over whether COVID-19 constitutes a force majeure event;

 

 

adverse impact on the timing of installs in our enterprise and wholesale customer segments at Uniti Fiber;

 

a general reduction in business and economic activity may severely impact our clients’ financial condition and liquidity and may cause them to be unable to meet their obligations to us in full, or at all, or to otherwise seek modifications of such obligations;

 

 

difficulty accessing debt and equity capital on attractive terms, or at all, and a severe disruption and instability in the global financial markets or deteriorations in credit and financing conditions may affect our access to capital necessary to fund business operations or address existing and anticipated liabilities on a timely basis; and

 

the potential negative impact on the health of our personnel, particularly if a significant number of them are impacted, could result in a deterioration in our ability to ensure business continuity during a disruption.

We have implemented policies and procedures designed to mitigate the risk of adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, or a future pandemic, on our operations, but we may incur additional costs to ensure continuity of business operations caused by COVID-19, or other future pandemics, which could adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations. However, the extent of such impacts will depend on future developments, which

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are highly uncertain and cannot be predicted, including new information which may emerge concerning the severity of COVID-19 and actions taken to contain COVID-19 or its impact, among others.

We expect the settlement with Windstream will require us to raise significant additional capital.

We expect to raise capital to fund obligations to Windstream, including (i) $490 million of settlement payments payable over time and (ii) an aggregate of up to $1.75 billion for certain growth capital improvements in long-term fiber and related assets made by Windstream (or the applicable tenant under the Windstream Lease) to certain ILEC and CLEC properties (the “Growth Capital Improvements”) subject to the master lease (although such investments will lead to higher rent payments). We will closely monitor capital markets and will seek to access them promptly when we determine market conditions are appropriate. The amount, nature and timing of any capital markets transactions will depend on: our operating performance and other circumstances; any limitations imposed by our current credit arrangements; and overall market conditions. If we are unable to access the capital markets as we anticipate (including because our cost of capital is higher than the returns we will get on our investment in Windstream), we would be subject to a shortfall in liquidity in the future which could lead to a reduction in our capital expenditures and/or dividends and, in an extreme case, our ability to pay our debt service obligations.  If this shortfall occurs rapidly and with little or no notice, it could limit our ability to address the shortfall on a timely basis.

We are dependent on Windstream to make payments to us under the Windstream Leases, 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 Windstream Leases 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 Windstream Leases.  In recent years, Windstream has experienced annual declines in its total revenue, sales and cash flow and has undergone a restructuring under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

The inability or unwillingness of Windstream to meet its rent obligations under the Windstream Leases could materially adversely affect our business, financial position or results of operations, including our ability to pay dividends to our stockholders as required to maintain our status as a REIT. The inability of Windstream to satisfy its other obligations under the Windstream Leases, such as the payment of insurance, taxes and utilities, could materially and adversely affect the condition of the Distribution Systems as well as the business, financial position and results of operations of Windstream. In addition, Windstream will be dependent on distributions from its subsidiaries in order to satisfy the payment obligations under the Windstream Leases, as such, if its subsidiaries were to experience a material and adverse effect on their business, financial position or results of operations, our business, financial position or results of operations could also be materially and adversely affected.

Failure by Windstream to comply with the terms of the Windstream Leases or to comply with the regulations to which the Distribution Systems are subject could require us to find another lessee for such Distribution Systems, or a portion thereof, and there could be a decrease or cessation of rental payments by Windstream.

There is no assurance that we would be able to lease the Distribution Systems to another lessee on substantially equivalent or better terms than the Windstream Leases, or at all, successfully reposition the Distribution Systems for other uses or sell the Distribution Systems on terms that are favorable to us. It may be more difficult to find a replacement tenant for a telecommunications property than it would be to find a replacement tenant for a general commercial property due to the specialized nature of the business. Even if we are able to find a suitable replacement tenant for the Distribution Systems, transfers of operations of communication distribution systems are subject to regulatory approvals not required for transfers of other types of commercial operations, which may affect our ability to successfully transition the Distribution Systems.

 

 

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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 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 Windstream Leases.

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, 2020, we had outstanding long term indebtedness of approximately $4.97 billion consisting of senior notes and a revolving credit facility provided by a syndicate of banks and other financial institutions, which, as of December 31, 2020, provided for an aggregate committed amount of borrowings up to approximately $560.5 million.  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, and our ability to pay dividends. Please see “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations—Liquidity and Capital Resources—Credit Agreement” for information about the terms of the limited waiver we received from the lenders to our Credit Agreement.

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In February 2021, the Operating Partnership and certain of its subsidiaries issued $1.11 billion aggregate principal amount of 6.50% senior notes due 2029 and used the proceeds from the offering to fund the tender offer of substantially all outstanding 8.25% senior notes due 2023, of which $58.8 million remain outstanding.  On February 16, 2021, we issued a notice of redemption to redeem all remaining principal amount of our outstanding 8.25% senior notes due 2023 on April 15, 2021.

We anticipate that we will have sufficient access to liquidity to fund our cash needs; if we are unable to do so, we would need to reduce our spending and it could have an adverse effect on us.

We anticipate continuing to invest in our network infrastructure across our Uniti Leasing and Uniti Fiber portfolios.  We anticipate declaring dividends for the 2021 tax year to comply with our REIT distribution requirements.  We also expect the need to raise capital to finance the Settlement, which includes growth capital investments, with Windstream.  We anticipate that we will partially finance these needs, together with operating expenses (including our debt service obligations) from our cash on hand, cash flows provided by operating activities, together with funds anticipated from announced divestures.  However, we may need to access the capital markets to generate additional funds in an amount sufficient to fund our business operations, announced investment activities, capital expenditures, debt service and distributions to our shareholders.  We are closely monitoring the equity and debt markets and will seek to access them promptly when we determine market conditions are appropriate. The amount, nature and timing of any capital markets transactions will depend on: our operating performance and other circumstances; our then-current commitments and obligations; the amount, nature and timing of our capital requirements; any limitations imposed by our current credit arrangements; and overall market conditions. These expectations are forward-looking and subject to a number of uncertainties and assumptions. If our expectations about our liquidity prove to be incorrect or we are unable to access the capital markets as we anticipate, we would be subject to a shortfall in liquidity in the future which could lead to a reduction in our capital expenditures and/or dividends and, in an extreme case, our ability to pay our debt service obligations.  If this shortfall occurs rapidly and with little or no notice, it could limit our ability to address the shortfall on a timely basis.

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.

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 designed to enhance the efficiency of communications distribution systems (including lit fiber networks and wireless equipment), 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 or development and implementation of any such new technologies would likely have an adverse effect on our revenues.

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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 and local 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.”

We have identified a material weakness in our internal control over financial reporting which could, if not remediated, result in material misstatements in our financial statements.

As further described in Item 9A of this Annual Report, in the course of completing our assessment of internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2020, management identified a material weakness in our internal control over financial reporting related to controls over the annual goodwill impairment assessment, specifically, the control activities over the determination of the carrying value to be used in the assessment of goodwill impairment.  A “material weakness” is a deficiency, or a combination of deficiencies, in internal control over financial reporting, such that there is a reasonable possibility that a material misstatement of the annual or interim financial statements would not be prevented or detected on a timely basis. As a result, management has concluded that, because of this material weakness, our internal control over financial reporting and our disclosure controls and procedures were not effective as of December 31, 2020. If we fail to complete the remediation of this material weakness, or after having remediated such material weakness, thereafter fail to maintain the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting or our disclosure controls and procedures, we could be subjected to regulatory scrutiny, civil or criminal penalties or shareholder litigation, the defense of any of which could cause the diversion of management’s attention and resources, we could incur significant legal and other expenses, and we could be required to pay damages to settle such actions if any such actions were not resolved in our favor. Continued or future failure to maintain effective internal control over financial reporting could also result in financial statements that do not accurately reflect our financial condition or results of operations. There can be no assurance that we will not conclude in the future that this material weakness continues to exist or that we will not identify any significant deficiencies or other material weaknesses that will impair our ability to report our financial condition and results of operations accurately or on a timely basis.

Any further impairment of our goodwill would negatively impact our financial condition and operating results.

Goodwill represents the excess of cost over the fair value of net assets acquired in business combinations. Impairment may result from significant changes in the manner of use of the acquired assets, negative industry or economic trends and/or any changes in key assumptions regarding our fair value. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and the precautionary measures instituted by governments and businesses to mitigate its spread, including travel restrictions and “shelter-in-place orders,” have contributed to a significant financial market volatility and a general slowdown of the global economy. The extent to which the fair value of net assets acquired in business combinations is ultimately impacted will depend on numerous evolving factors that are presently uncertain and which we may not be able to predict. Although we assess potential impairment of our goodwill on an annual basis, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic may cause us to perform an interim analysis of our goodwill and cause us to report an impairment charge in the future, which could have a significant adverse impact on our reported earnings. At December 31, 2020, we had $601.9 million of goodwill on our consolidated balance sheet after recognizing a $71 million goodwill impairment charge for the Fiber Infrastructure reporting unit during the fourth quarter of 2020.  For a discussion of our goodwill impairment testing, see “Note 3. Summary of Significant Accounting Policies-Goodwill” in the notes to the Condensed Consolidated Financial Statements set forth in Part II, Item 8 and “Critical Accounting Policies-Evaluation of Goodwill Impairment” in Part II, Item 7A-Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.

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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 Windstream Leases require, and we expect that additional 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 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.

Additionally, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, large numbers of our employees are working remotely from their homes, which could have the effect of exacerbating any of the foregoing risks. While we have taken steps to ensure the security of our data and to prevent security breaches, many of these measures are being deployed for the first time on a widespread and sustained basis, and there is no guarantee the data security and privacy safeguards we have put in place will be completely effective or that we will not encounter some of the common risks associated with employees accessing Company data and systems remotely. As a result, we may be required to expend significant capital and other resources to protect against security breaches or to alleviate problems caused by security breaches.

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 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.

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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, as does one of our principal operating subsidiaries.  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, including at the level of our subsidiary REIT, 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.

If we or our subsidiary REIT were to fail to qualify as a REIT in any taxable year, unless certain relief provisions apply, we would be subject to U.S. federal income tax on all of our taxable income at regular corporate rates and dividends paid to our stockholders would not be deductible by us in computing our taxable income. As a result, we would no longer be required to pay dividends in order to qualify to be taxed as a REIT, and we could decide to reduce the amount of dividends we pay to our stockholders.  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 re-electing to be taxed as a REIT for the four taxable years following the year in which we failed to qualify as a REIT.

In addition, our 7.875% senior secured notes due 2025 presently limit our ability to make cash distributions to our shareholders in amounts exceeding 90% of our good faith estimate, as of the date on which the first quarterly dividend for the relevant year is declared, of our REIT taxable income for such year, determined without regard to the dividends paid deduction and excluding any capital gains, until we reduce our net leverage ratio. As a result, we may be required to record a provision in our Consolidated Financial Statements for U.S. federal income taxes related to the activities of the REIT and its passthrough subsidiaries for any undistributed income. We are subject to the statutory requirements of the locations in which we conduct business, and state and local income taxes are accrued as deemed required in the best judgment of management based on analysis and interpretation of respective tax laws.

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 our taxable REIT subsidiaries (“TRSs”).

We could fail to qualify as a REIT if income we receive from lease transactions, such as income from Windstream pursuant to the Windstream Leases, 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 or other lessees will not be treated as qualifying rent for purposes of these requirements if the relevant 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 any of our leases, including the Windstream Leases, 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.

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We generally must qualify as a REIT and distribute annually at least 90% of our REIT taxable income, determined without regard to the dividends paid deduction and excluding any net capital gains, for the U.S. federal corporate income tax not to apply to earnings that we distribute (assuming that certain other requirements are also satisfied). 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 including 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. The same rules apply to our REIT subsidiary. We currently intend to make distributions to our stockholders, and to cause our REIT subsidiary to make distributions, to comply with the REIT requirements of the Code.  

Our FFO is currently generated largely by rents paid under the Windstream Leases. 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 and 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.

 

 

A deterioration in Windstream’s financial condition could adversely affect our ability to continue to qualify as a REIT.

In addition to satisfying the distribution requirement described above in the immediately preceding risk factor, we and our subsidiary REIT must each satisfy a number of other requirements in order to qualify as a REIT.  A deterioration in Windstream’s financial condition could adversely affect our ability to satisfy several of these requirements and thus our ability to continue to qualify as a REIT.

For example, in order to qualify as a REIT for any year, at the end of each calendar quarter, at least 75% of the value of our assets must consist of cash, cash items, government securities and “real estate assets” (as defined in the Code), and no more than 20% of the value of our total assets can be represented by securities (other than qualified real estate assets) of one or more TRSs. If we fail to comply with either of 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. These same rules apply to our REIT subsidiary.  Our ability to satisfy these requirements depends in substantial part on the value of the assets that are the subject of the Windstream Leases with Windstream, and any diminution in the value of such assets, including as a result of any diminution in the implied value of the Windstream Leases as a result of changes in the financial condition or creditworthiness of Windstream or Windstream’s inability or unwillingness to meet its rent and other obligations under the Windstream Leases, could adversely affect our ability to satisfy these requirements at the end of any calendar quarter, and there can be no assurance that we would be able to timely correct any such failure or otherwise qualify for any statutory relief provision. See “—Risks Related to Our Business—We are dependent on Windstream Holdings to make payments to us under the Windstream Leases, 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.” In addition, under applicable provisions of the Code, we will not be treated as a REIT for any year unless we satisfy various requirements, including requirements relating to the sources of our gross income in such year. These same rules apply to our REIT subsidiary.  Our ability to satisfy these gross income tests depends in substantial part on our receipt of rents paid under the Windstream Leases. Windstream’s inability or unwillingness to meet its rent and other obligations under the Windstream Leases, or any suspension, delay or other reduction in the amount of rent that we receive under the Windstream Leases could adversely affect our ability to qualify as a REIT.

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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 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 (other than qualified real estate assets) 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 Common Stock

We cannot guarantee our ability to pay dividends in the future, and we could elect to pay dividends substantially in the form of additional shares of our common stock.

To qualify as a REIT, our 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 ensure 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.  Accordingly, because we are required to make distributions in certain amounts to our shareholders in order to maintain our REIT status and avoid incurring entity-level income and excise tax, we may elect to pay one or more dividends to our shareholders substantially in the form of additional shares of common stock.  If we do so, the common stock that we distribute would be taxable dividend income to our shareholders, in whole or in part, based on the fair market value of our common stock at the time the dividend is paid.

Furthermore, while we are required to pay dividends in order to maintain our REIT status (as described above under “Risks Related to the Status of Uniti 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, which may result in holders of our common stock incurring tax liability without the receipt of a corresponding amount 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.

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The market price and trading volume of our common stock may fluctuate widely.

We cannot predict the prices at which our common stock may trade.  The market price of our common stock has fluctuated significantly since February 15, 2019 and may continue to fluctuate significantly, depending upon many factors, some of which may be beyond our control. In addition, under the settlement with Windstream, we issued 38,633,470 shares, equal to 19.99% of our currently outstanding common stock, to certain investors at a purchase price of $6.33 per share.  These investors will be able to resell their shares into the market over time, which could lead to volatility and lower declines in the price of our common stock.

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 or lease over 123,000 fiber network route miles, representing approximately 6.9 million fiber strand miles, approximately 230,000 route miles of copper cable lines, wireless communication towers, central office land and buildings across 44 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, 2020:

Location

 

Fiber Route Miles

 

 

Copper Route Miles

 

 

Total Route Miles

 

GA

 

 

10,800

 

 

 

45,000

 

 

 

55,800

 

TX

 

 

10,800

 

 

 

39,000

 

 

 

49,800

 

KY

 

 

8,900

 

 

 

32,100

 

 

 

41,000

 

IA

 

 

8,600

 

 

 

31,500

 

 

 

40,100

 

NC

 

 

5,200

 

 

 

18,100

 

 

 

23,300

 

OH

 

 

4,100

 

 

 

10,400

 

 

 

14,500

 

AR

 

 

3,900

 

 

 

13,400

 

 

 

17,300

 

IL

 

 

3,600

 

 

 

 

 

 

3,600

 

FL

 

 

3,000

 

 

 

8,300

 

 

 

11,300

 

IN

 

 

2,500

 

 

 

 

 

 

2,500

 

WI

 

 

2,100

 

 

 

 

 

 

2,100

 

MI

 

 

2,000

 

 

 

 

 

 

2,000

 

OK

 

 

2,000

 

 

 

12,000

 

 

 

14,000

 

CA

 

 

1,800

 

 

 

 

 

 

1,800

 

MO

 

 

1,600

 

 

 

10,800

 

 

 

12,400

 

NY

 

 

1,400

 

 

 

 

 

 

1,400

 

PA

 

 

1,400

 

 

 

 

 

 

1,400

 

TN

 

 

1,300

 

 

 

 

 

 

1,300

 

NM

 

 

1,200

 

 

 

5,100

 

 

 

6,300

 

AL

 

 

1,100

 

 

 

2,400

 

 

 

3,500

 

VA

 

 

1,100

 

 

 

 

 

 

1,100

 

Other(1)

 

 

7,400

 

 

 

1,700

 

 

 

9,100

 

Total

 

 

85,800

 

 

 

229,800

 

 

 

315,600

 

(1) Includes 21 states.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fiber Segment

Uniti Fiber’s network properties include its fiber route miles and wireless communications towers. Below is a geographic distribution summary as of December 31, 2020:

Location

 

Fiber Route Miles

 

FL

 

 

6,900

 

GA

 

 

6,000

 

LA

 

 

5,900

 

AL

 

 

4,500

 

PA

 

 

4,500

 

MS

 

 

2,900

 

VA

 

 

1,600

 

NY

 

 

1,500

 

TX

 

 

1,300

 

NJ

 

 

800

 

Other(1)

 

 

1,600

 

Total

 

 

37,500

 

(1) Includes 10 states.

 

 

 

 

 

Location

 

Towers

 

LA

 

 

105

 

NM

 

 

19

 

TX

 

 

18

 

AR

 

 

13

 

NE

 

 

10

 

Other(1)

 

 

20

 

Total

 

 

185

 

(1) Includes 10 states.

 

 

 

 

A description of legal proceedings can be found in Note 17 - Commitments and Contingencies to our Consolidated Financial Statements, included in this report at Part II, Item 8-Financial Statements and Supplementary Data, and is incorporated by reference into this Item 3.

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.”

Holders

As of February 26, 2021, the closing price of our common stock was $11.91 per share as reported on the NASDAQ Global Select Market. As of February 26, 2021, we had 232,897,213 outstanding shares of common stock, and there were approximately 18,932 registered holders of record of Uniti’s common stock. A substantially greater number of holders of Uniti common stock are “street name” or beneficial holders, whose shares of record are held by banks, brokers, and other financial institutions.

Dividends (Distributions)

Distributions with respect to our common stock are characterized for federal income tax purposes as taxable ordinary dividends, capital gains dividends, non-dividend distributions or a combination thereof. It has been our policy to declare dividends to common shareholders so as to comply with the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code governing REITs.

Any dividends must be declared by our Board of Directors, which will take into account various factors including our current and anticipated operating results, our financial position, REIT requirements, conditions prevailing in the market, restrictions in our debt documents and additional factors they deem appropriate. Dividend payments are not guaranteed and our Board of Directors may decide, in its absolute discretion, at any time and for any reason, not to pay dividends or to change the amount paid as dividends.  In addition, our 7.875% senior secured notes due 2025 presently limit our ability to make cash distributions to our shareholders in amounts exceeding 90% of our good faith estimate, as of the date on which the first quarterly dividend for the relevant year is declared, of our REIT taxable income for such year, determined without regard to the dividends paid deduction and excluding any capital gains, until we reduce our net leverage ratio.

As a result, we may be required to record a provision in our Consolidated Financial Statements for U.S. federal income taxes related to the activities of the REIT and its passthrough subsidiaries for any undistributed income. We are subject to the statutory requirements of the locations in which we conduct business, and state and local income taxes are accrued as deemed required in the best judgment of management based on analysis and interpretation of respective tax laws.

Stock Performance

The following graph shows a comparison from December 31, 2015 through December 31, 2020 on the NASDAQ Global Select Market 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 December 31, 2015 and that all dividends were reinvested in the common 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.

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Cumulative Total Stockholder Returns

Based on Investment of $100.00 Beginning on December 31, 2015

 

 

12/31/2015

 

 

12/31/2016

 

 

12/31/2017

 

 

12/31/2018

 

 

12/31/2019

 

 

12/31/2020

 

Uniti Group Inc.

 

$

100.00

 

 

$

148.84

 

 

$

117.43

 

 

$

117.42

 

 

$

64.64

 

 

$

99.14

 

S&P 400 Index

 

 

100.00

 

 

 

120.74

 

 

 

140.35

 

 

 

124.80

 

 

 

157.49

 

 

 

179.00

 

MSCI US REIT Index

 

 

100.00

 

 

 

108.62

 

 

 

114.19

 

 

 

109.04

 

 

 

137.27

 

 

 

126.88

 

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

 

Average Price Paid per Share(1)

 

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, 2020 to October 31, 2020

 

 

3,427

 

$

10.58

 

 

 

 

 

November 1, 2020 to November 30, 2020

 

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

 

 

December 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total

 

 

3,427

 

$

10.58

 

 

 

 

 

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(1)

The average price paid 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.

On November 19, 2020, the SEC adopted certain amendments to Regulation S-K, including the elimination of Item 301 thereof.  The final rules became effective on February 10, 2021.  The Company has chosen to adopt the recent amendments and omit the disclosure formerly required by Item 301 of Regulation S-K.

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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.

This section generally discusses 2020 and 2019 items and year-to-year comparisons between 2020 and 2019. Discussions of 2018 items and year-to-year comparisons between 2019 and 2018 that are not included in this Annual Report on Form 10-K can be found in “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” in Part II, Item 7 of our Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2019 filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on March 12, 2020.

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, 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 Windstream Holdings II, LLC, its successor in interest, and 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 a substantial portion of our leasing revenues are currently derived.  In connection with Windstream’s recent emergence from bankruptcy and the implementation of the Settlement (as defined below) with Windstream, Uniti and Windstream bifurcated the Master Lease and entered into two structurally similar master leases (collectively, the “Windstream Leases”), which amended and restated the Master Lease in its entirety. (See “Significant Business Developments” below).

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 Windstream Leases. We have elected to treat the subsidiaries through which we operate our fiber business, Uniti Fiber, certain aspects of our former towers business, and Talk America Services, LLC, which operated the Consumer CLEC Business (“Talk America”), as 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 December 31, 2020, we are the sole general partner of the Operating Partnership and own approximately 98.5% of the partnership interests in the Operating Partnership.  In addition, beginning on December 31, 2019, we undertook a series of transactions, including the issuance by one of our subsidiaries of convertible preferred stock to third parties with an aggregate liquidation value of $125,000, to permit us to hold certain of our assets indirectly through one of our subsidiaries taxed as a REIT, which is also expected to facilitate future acquisition opportunities.

We aim 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

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infrastructure assets from third parties, including communication service providers, and lease them back on a long-term triple-net basis; (ii) leasing of dark fiber and selling of lit services on our existing fiber network assets that we either constructed or acquired; (iii) 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; (iv) 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 (v) mergers and acquisitions financing, whereby we facilitate mergers and acquisition transactions as a capital partner, including through operating company-property company (“OpCo-PropCo”) structures.

We have historically managed our operations as the four reportable business segments listed below (in addition to our corporate operations), but due to the sale of our towers business and wind down of the Consumer CLEC Business, starting in 2021, we will manage our operations focused on our two primary businesses, Leasing and Fiber Infrastructure:

Leasing Segment: Represents 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.  Uniti Leasing is a component of our REIT operations.

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.

Towers Segment: Represents the operations of our former towers business, Uniti Towers, through which we acquired and constructed tower and tower-related real estate and leased space on communications towers to wireless service providers and other tenants in the United States.  Starting in 2019, the Company completed a series of transactions to largely divest of its towers business:  on April 2, 2019, May 23, 2019 and June 1, 2020, the Company completed the sales of its Latin American business, substantially all of its U.S. ground lease business, and its U.S. tower business (see “Significant Business DevelopmentsSale of U.S. Towers Business” below), respectively.  Portions of our former towers business were a component of our REIT operations, while the remainder were owned and operated by our TRSs.

Consumer CLEC Segment: Represents the operations of Talk America through which we operated the Consumer CLEC Business that, prior to the Spin-Off, was reported as an integrated operation within Windstream. Talk America provided local telephone, high-speed internet and long-distance services to customers in the eastern and central United States.  As of the end of the second quarter of 2020, we have substantially completed a wind down of our Consumer CLEC business.

Corporate Operations: Represents our corporate office and shared service functions. Certain costs and expenses, primarily related to headcount, information technology systems, 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 and the impact, which may be recurring in nature, of transaction and integration related costs, costs associated with Windstream’s bankruptcy, costs associated with litigation claims made against us, and costs associated with the implementation of our enterprise resource planning system, costs related to the settlement with Windstream, amortization of non-cash rights-of-use, the write off of unamortized deferred financing costs, costs incurred as a result of the early repayment of debt, including early tender premiums and costs associated with the termination of related hedging activities, gains or losses on dispositions, changes in the fair value of contingent consideration and financial instruments, and other similar or infrequent items (although we may not have had such charges in the periods presented). Adjusted EBITDA includes adjustments to reflect the Company’s share of Adjusted EBITDA from unconsolidated entities.  For more information on Adjusted EBITDA, see “Non-GAAP Financial Measures.” Detailed information about our segments can be found in Note 16 to our consolidated financial statements contained in Part II, Item 8 Financial Statements and Supplementary Data.

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Significant Business Developments

Windstream Emergence and Settlement.  On July 25, 2019, in connection with Windstream’s bankruptcy, Windstream Holdings and Windstream Services, LLC (“Windstream Services”) filed a complaint with the Bankruptcy Court in an adversary proceeding against Uniti and certain of its affiliates, alleging, among other things, that the Master Lease should be recharacterized as a financing arrangement, that certain rent payments and TCIs made by Windstream under the Master Lease constitute constructive fraudulent transfers, that the Master Lease is a lease of personal property and that Uniti breached certain of its obligations under the Master Lease.

On September 21, 2020, Windstream emerged from bankruptcy. In connection with Windstream’s emergence from bankruptcy, Uniti entered into several agreements and consummated the transactions, each as described below, to implement its settlement of the above-mentioned litigation (the “Settlement”) with Windstream pursuant to the settlement agreement (the “Settlement Agreement”) dated as of May 12, 2020 between Uniti and Windstream. The Settlement resolves any and all claims and causes of action that have been or may be asserted in the future by Uniti and Windstream regarding the Spin-off of Uniti and related sale-leaseback transaction, including all litigation brought against Uniti by Windstream and certain of its creditors during Windstream’s bankruptcy proceedings.  The release from claims applies to any Windstream successor and is binding going forward, including in any future Windstream bankruptcy.  We estimated fair value of the litigation settlement to be $650.0 million and we recorded a corresponding charge in the second quarter of 2020.

Under the Settlement Agreement, in addition to completing the transactions and executing the Windstream Leases described below, Uniti is required to make $490.1 million in cash payments to Windstream in equal installments over 20 consecutive quarters beginning October 2020, and Uniti may prepay any installments falling due on or after the first anniversary of the Settlement’s effective date (discounted at a 9% rate).  As of the date of this Annual Report on Form 10-K, the Company made the first two quarterly payments totaling $49.0 million.

Windstream Leases

On September 18, 2020, in connection with Windstream’s emergence from bankruptcy and the implementation of the Settlement with Windstream described in Note 17 to our accompanying Consolidated Financial Statements, Uniti and Windstream bifurcated the Master Lease and entered into two structurally similar master leases that each expire on April 30, 2030 (collectively, the “Windstream Leases”), which amended and restated the Master Lease in its entirety. The Windstream Leases consist of (a) a master lease (the “ILEC MLA”) that governs Uniti owned assets used for Windstream’s incumbent local exchange carrier (“ILEC”) operations and (b) a master lease (the “CLEC MLA”) that governs Uniti owned assets used for Windstream’s competitive local exchange carrier (“CLEC”) operations. The aggregate initial annual rent under the Windstream Leases is equal to the annual rent under the Master Lease previously in effect. The tenants under the ILEC MLA are Windstream Holdings II, LLC (“Windstream Holdings II,” successor in interest to Windstream Holdings) Windstream Services II, LLC (“Windstream Services II,” successor in interest to Windstream Services), and certain subsidiaries and/or newly formed affiliated entities operating Windstream’s ILEC operations and the landlords under the ILEC MLA are the Uniti entities that own the applicable ILEC assets. Similarly, the tenants under the CLEC MLA are Windstream Holdings II, Windstream Services II, and certain subsidiaries and/or newly formed affiliated entities operating Windstream’s CLEC operations, and the landlords under the CLEC MLA are the Uniti entities that own the CLEC assets. The Windstream Leases contain cross-guarantees and cross-default provisions, which will remain effective as long as Windstream or an affiliate is the tenant under both of the Windstream Leases and unless and until the landlords under the ILEC MLA are different from the landlords under the CLEC MLA. The Windstream Leases permit Uniti to transfer its rights and obligations and otherwise monetize or encumber the Windstream Leases, together or separately, so long as Uniti does not transfer interests in either Windstream Lease to a Windstream competitor. In addition, the Windstream Leases impose certain financial restrictions on Windstream if Windstream fails to maintain certain financial covenants.  See Note 5 to our consolidated financial statements contained in Part II, Item 8 Financial Statements and Supplementary Data.

Stock Purchase Agreements

On September 9, 2020, Uniti entered into stock purchase agreements (each, a “Stock Purchase Agreement”) with certain first lien creditors of Windstream to replace and codify the terms set forth in the previously-filed binding

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