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Edited Transcript of ATNI earnings conference call or presentation 25-Apr-19 1:30pm GMT

Q1 2019 ATN International Inc Earnings Call

Beverly Apr 26, 2019 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of ATN International Inc earnings conference call or presentation Thursday, April 25, 2019 at 1:30:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Justin D. Benincasa

ATN International, Inc. - CFO

* Michael T.C. Prior

ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman

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Conference Call Participants

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* Allen Robert Klee

Maxim Group LLC, Research Division - Senior VP & Senior TMT Analyst

* Hamed Khorsand

BWS Financial Inc. - Principal & Research Analyst

* Richard Hamilton Prentiss

Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Head of Telecommunication Services Equity Research

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the ATN International First Quarter 2019 Conference Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later, we will conduct a question-and-answer session and instructions will be given at that time. (Operator Instructions) As a reminder, this conference is being recorded.

I'd now like to turn the call over to Chief Financial Officer, Justin Benincasa. You may begin.

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Justin D. Benincasa, ATN International, Inc. - CFO [2]

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Great. Thank you, operator. Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us on our call to review our first quarter 2019 results. With me here is Michael Prior, ATN's Chief Executive Officer. During the call, I'll cover the relevant financial information and Michael will provide an update on the business and outlook.

Before I turn the call over to Michael for his comments, I'd like to point out that this call and our press release contain forward-looking statements concerning our current expectations, objectives and underlying assumptions regarding our future operating results and are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those described.

Also, in an effort to provide useful information to investors, our comments today include non-GAAP financial measures. For details on these measures and reconciliations to comparable GAAP measures and for further information regarding the factors that may affect our future operating results, I would refer you to our earnings release on our website at atni.com or the 8-K filing provided to the SEC.

And I'll turn the call over to Michael.

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Michael T.C. Prior, ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman [3]

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All right. Thank you, Justin. Good morning, everyone. My remarks this quarter are going to be relatively brief since it's been only 2 months since the year-end call. So, just as usual, I'll start with an overview and then go quickly through the segments and finish.

When I look at this quarter, I would look at it and say, the story might best be entitled the Tale of Two Segments. One is very positive and one is not. First, the negative, our U.S. Telecom segment reported historically low results with adjusted EBITDA well below levels we've seen for many years. While there is some seasonality in those numbers and the effect of an asset sale and some other items, these results are primarily due to the decline in our core wholesale wireless revenues.

Second, the positive, today, International Telecom is, by far, the largest segment, accounting for roughly three quarters of total revenue for the quarter, and we are pleased by the progress and future prospects of this part of the portfolio.

So I said I was going to be brief, so let's move from that directly into the segment discussion beginning with International Telecom. So, while in line with our expectations, it was good to see the growth of both revenues and operating margins in this segment. The reasons for this growth should be familiar. We returned to a full scale, more normal operating environment after some 5 quarters of hurricane recovery work and we are continuing to see broadband and other data service growth, following our major network investments.

You can see this data growth clearly in the subscriber numbers with data subscribers ending the quarter at more than 125,000, 12% higher than a year ago. And we do think this sort of organic growth coupled with cost controls will be a recurring theme this year and into next. Lastly, as Justin will cover, so far we are seeing the free cash flow expansion for this segment that we expected and spoke to in our last earnings call.

Moving to the U.S. Telecom segment, this was a disappointing quarter, as I said, even after you account for the effect of the transactional and subsidy items that were expected and much discussed. I will assure you that our team is not idle in the face of this adversity, and we are still working diligently to try to reposition the main wholesale business.

And while success is not guaranteed or even completely defined, our goal is to create a sustainable and more predictable stream of revenues and cash flows for those -- from those operations moving forward. And I do expect our understanding of that future will become clearer as 2019 progresses.

In the meantime, as we stated in the press release, we do anticipate results improving a bit in the next quarter due to a variety of issues that disproportionately affect either the year-on-year or sequential comparisons. Beyond that, we have a number of initiatives involving different businesses and service offerings within this segment outside of wholesale wireless, but there is nothing new of note to report on that since our last call.

In Renewable Energy, there is also little to add to the update we offered in late February. Segment revenues and adjusted EBITDA are of course down year-on-year because of the U.S. assets sale. Now that the India business is producing steady revenues and operating cash flow, we are focused mainly on opportunities to increase scale.

In other developments during the quarter, ATN Ventures made a significant new investment in [XCOM] a new venture focusing on developing new wireless technologies that was launched last year by members of the former leadership team at Qualcomm. We are excited about this chance to invest in and partner with a very talented group. We share their vision of rapid changes to communications technologies which we will believe will open up the prospect of new business models in the broader sector. So to sum it up, our largest collection of businesses is producing favorable trends and expanding cash flow, but our legacy U.S. wholesale business is still fighting headwinds which we are working hard to combat. And we are investing not an insignificant amount of our capital and time pursuing business expansion and investment opportunities.

And now, I'll hand it back to you, Justin.

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Justin D. Benincasa, ATN International, Inc. - CFO [4]

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Great. Thank you, Michael. For the first quarter, total consolidated revenues were relatively steady at $103.3 million, down 1% from last year's first quarter. Excluding the impact of the U.S. solar sale, we saw similar trends to the fourth quarter of 2018 with increases in the International Telecom segment revenues more than offsetting lower U.S. Telecom segment revenues, which speaks to the benefits of a diversified business model.

Consolidated adjusted EBITDA for the quarter was $23.2 million compared to $26.3 million in the prior year, which I'll break down further as I go through the segments. Starting with the International Telecom segment, revenues increased 15% to $80.3 million, up from $70.1 million last year; and adjusted EBITDA was up 51% to $26.9 million from $17.8 million.

Much of the year-over-year increase relates to post hurricane recovery in the U.S. Virgin Islands. And as Michael noted, we continue to see strong subscriber and revenue growth, thanks to our investments in upgrading and expanding our fiber networks. We expect capital expenditures in this segment to be between $50 million and $55 million for both maintenance and additional growth projects in multiple markets for the year. Including that capital expense, we expect to see a year-on-year improvement of free cash flow in excess of $100 million for the segment.

In the U.S. Telecom segment, revenues were $21.5 million for the quarter, down from $28.5 million a year ago and adjusted EBITDA was $2.3 million, down from $12 million in the first quarter -- first quarter 2018.

Of the $7 million revenue decline, $4.9 million was due to lower wholesale revenue that Michael mentioned. Breaking down the year-on-year adjusted EBITDA difference, approximately 35% of the decline or $3.5 million was accounted for by the sale of 100 wholesale sites which closed mid-2018; the expiration of the Mobility Fund I grant and related operating expense offsets; and the additional operating costs from the early stage business investments we made mid last year.

We currently expect site acceptance and revenue benefit from the $80 million 10-year Connect America II fund award to start late in the second quarter, which will benefit second half segment results.

In the Renewable Energy segment, revenues were $1.5 million in the first quarter, following the sale of the U.S. portfolio in late 2018 accounting for the $4.3 million reduction in the first quarter results. EBITDA was $0.6 million for the quarter. Consolidated net loss for the quarter was $1.6 million or $0.10 per share.

In other income statement -- items to note; EBITDA in the U.S. Telecom segment for the quarter was negatively impacted by approximately $1.2 million from the inclusion of the early stage initiatives we previously discussed. The effective tax rate for the quarter was 62%, reflecting the impact of some discrete items on a smaller pre-tax item. But we currently estimate an overall effective tax rate in the high 30% range for the full year. And included in operating income was $1.3 million of non-cash stock-based compensation expense for the quarter.

Moving to the balance sheet, at March 31, we ended the year with total cash and short term cash investments of $176.8 million and total debt outstanding of $90.1 million. Capital expenditures for the quarter totaled $17.8 million of which approximately $11.4 million was incurred by our International Telecom segment, $3.1 million by the U.S. Telecom operations, and $3.3 million in the Renewable Energy and Other segment.

And with that, operator, we'll turn the call -- open the call up for questions.

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions) And our first question comes from Rick Prentiss with Raymond James.

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Richard Hamilton Prentiss, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Head of Telecommunication Services Equity Research [2]

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I think our high school English teachers will be proud because I almost used that tale of two segments as my title for the note last night as well. When we do look at the 2 segments on the U.S. side how mechanically will the CAF II funding work? Justin, you mentioned it's going to come in late 2Q, but is the $80 million over 10 years? Will that all come in spread to revenue or is there any counter-CapEx component? And is it kind of level-loaded? And is it all incremental versus stuff you've already been booking?

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Justin D. Benincasa, ATN International, Inc. - CFO [3]

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At least you [reckon] it. It will all come in as revenue. It might not come in, the full $80 million in the start because we reserve, if we don't get an area covered, we -- it may not be accepted, et cetera. So there'll be some conservatism in the $80 million. And then, if there's any CapEx needed to meet the requirements, it will flow through capital expenditures. But it's fairly even, if that's -- in terms of coming through the quarters.

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Richard Hamilton Prentiss, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Head of Telecommunication Services Equity Research [4]

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Okay. It's just a matter of how much you reserve for population?

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Justin D. Benincasa, ATN International, Inc. - CFO [5]

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And it would be all incremental -- Right, it would be all incremental if that's -- is I think you're asking to.

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Richard Hamilton Prentiss, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Head of Telecommunication Services Equity Research [6]

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And then, also within the U.S. Wireline business, it's been bouncing around a little bit on the revenue side for wireline. I think last year was about $1 million in revenue, but then it went up to closer to $2 million in the latter part of '18 and now in 1Q '19, we're back down to kind of $1 million in revenue. Is there some seasonality in the base wireline business? I'm not that of that. So I'm just wondering what played out.

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Justin D. Benincasa, ATN International, Inc. - CFO [7]

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That is our -- that wireline -- Yes, that wireline revenue is our wholesale business that does kind of bounce around a little bit. It's not really seasonal it's just -- I think this quarter in particular was a little bit off.

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Richard Hamilton Prentiss, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Head of Telecommunication Services Equity Research [8]

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Okay. So more like, what we saw in 2018 is maybe more of the expected area?

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Justin D. Benincasa, ATN International, Inc. - CFO [9]

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Yes, it's hard to say. It's the wholesale long distance business we have in there. But this quarter, it was lower. It's not a major impacting item on EBITDA, Yes.

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Richard Hamilton Prentiss, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Head of Telecommunication Services Equity Research [10]

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Yes. Okay.

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Justin D. Benincasa, ATN International, Inc. - CFO [11]

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So the movements shouldn't really have a big impact.

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Richard Hamilton Prentiss, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Head of Telecommunication Services Equity Research [12]

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Got you. Now of course one of the bigger areas that does impact the EBITDA is the second segment, the good segment that's been strong is International. You called out continued organic growth and also cost control. How should we think about the margins in that business not that you've spent a lot of the capital, where the margins might be able to go in that business with the organic revenue growth and the cost controls?

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Michael T.C. Prior, ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman [13]

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I'm not going to give a target, but I think we think there is a lot of opportunity to improve margin. You know it depends on individual markets and businesses but we think we both -- we have to improve the margins. There's a longer-term viability of the individual businesses, but we also think there is ample opportunity to do so. And it won't -- it won't happen overnight. It's a matter of a number of initiatives. There has been some good progress in some areas but I would say we're probably early innings of what we think we can do, and time will tell how well we do it, obviously.

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Richard Hamilton Prentiss, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Head of Telecommunication Services Equity Research [14]

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Alright. And how about seasonality in that business as far as the International? Obviously, it's a mixture of different markets. But how should we think about seasonality on revenues and margins in the International segment?

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Michael T.C. Prior, ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman [15]

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It's not very pronounced at the moment. In the old days, it used to be more pronounced when there was a higher -- smaller group of assets and a higher piece of the overall revenue was inbound roaming revenue. That's just not that significant. So it's -- if you think about the underlying product, it's really pretty steady throughout the year. There are exceptions, there are some markets that have a little more of an increase, but to some extent, those are at different times of the year for different markets. So net-net-net, not a real factor.

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Richard Hamilton Prentiss, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Head of Telecommunication Services Equity Research [16]

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And really it's just being tied to the adoption of broadband and data consumption then?

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Michael T.C. Prior, ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman [17]

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That's right and the core revenues here, both wireless and wireline, are domestic recurring revenue stuffs and they don't move around a lot throughout the year for any individual customer.

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Richard Hamilton Prentiss, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Head of Telecommunication Services Equity Research [18]

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Okay. And the final one for me is on the early stage, appreciate the call-out as far as how much impact they had on the EBITDA within the quarter. How should we think about the ramp curve there from CapEx or other spending? What's the magnitude that might reach over the next 1 year, 3 years, 5 years?

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Michael T.C. Prior, ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman [19]

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It's hard to predict, Rick. I guess what I would say is if we're successful, it could be fairly significant number in those businesses. But really -- and we've spoken to this before, it's really -- the business models are very oriented towards success-based CapEx. So they-- that will be coming at the same time as revenue commitments and revenue growth. So it's -- but today, it's hard to predict the size or the scale because we have a number of different opportunities we're chasing and it really depends how they pan out.

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Richard Hamilton Prentiss, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Head of Telecommunication Services Equity Research [20]

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And, what should we be watching externally as far as the success factors? Is it announcement of buildings as far as wanting to do indoor DaaS systems or what should we be looking for as far as milestones along the path to be successful?

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Michael T.C. Prior, ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman [21]

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It's the first part of your tentative answer which is, you'll tend to see announcements of that progress. And partnerships and things like that would be other indicators because that's really how you measure the progress of those businesses.

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Operator [22]

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And our next question comes from Allen Klee with Maxim Group.

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Allen Robert Klee, Maxim Group LLC, Research Division - Senior VP & Senior TMT Analyst [23]

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For the U.S. Telecom segment, could you expand on what -- a little bit on what you had said that some of your initiatives could get a little bit of improvement for next quarter in terms of what that is? And then, excluding the benefit you will get in the second half from Connect America Fund, do you think that the new run rate of the margin is kind of where it is in the quarter you just had or is there some opportunities for that to improve?

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Michael T.C. Prior, ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman [24]

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I think I'll let Justin add if I miss something or misspeak. But I think, first of all, the -- just for the next quarter, it's mainly some bets lumped under but not entirely seasonal factors that have a saying that the second quarter should improve a bit over the first. There's nothing -- that's not about bigger initiatives and things like that. That -- those things are a little bit probably farther out, maybe impacting 2019 but farther out. And in terms of margins, it really depends ultimately on the success of that. I mean we're -- that's what we're working on. So it's a little bit hard to predict margins when the core wholesale revenue line we're working on -- various things that will impact that. I mean, seasonality alone, Allen, would -- in higher seasonal quarters, expand that margin, right, because the cost structure right now is kind of steady state. So as we move through -- just move through just seasonality, you're going to get expanded margins in the more seasonal quarters, being kind of end of second and third. Does that answer your questions, Allen?

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Allen Robert Klee, Maxim Group LLC, Research Division - Senior VP & Senior TMT Analyst [25]

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Yes, thank you. In renewables, now it's Pure India. What's your thoughts on what can change this from being kind of a steady state level of revenue and EBITDA to a higher number?

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Michael T.C. Prior, ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman [26]

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It's really about building out on their pipeline and we've said that we need to see additional capital partners including local lenders in order to do that. So we still think that's the direction, but that's basically what's required.

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Allen Robert Klee, Maxim Group LLC, Research Division - Senior VP & Senior TMT Analyst [27]

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Okay. And then finally, I guess, you've kind of touched on it, but is there anything else you would add of -- with emerging investments of, how you think about the potential timeframe for the revenues contribution from these investments?

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Michael T.C. Prior, ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman [28]

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You know I think you largely covered it. One way to think about it would be that, I think that by coming into 2020, those are either starting to really significantly ramp or there's visibility of that ramp or they're basically not succeeding at the -- in executing on the model, right. So it become somewhat binary.

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Operator [29]

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(Operator Instructions) Our next question comes from Hamed Khorsand with BWS Financial.

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Hamed Khorsand, BWS Financial Inc. - Principal & Research Analyst [30]

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So first off, is there any -- anything you're doing on the U.S. Wholesale side to improve the profitability of that business?

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Michael T.C. Prior, ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman [31]

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We're working on it. But there's only so far you can go. So we're certainly working on that, but I think it's mainly a revenue issue rather than a cost issue.

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Hamed Khorsand, BWS Financial Inc. - Principal & Research Analyst [32]

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And then on the early investments you've made especially the ones you've highlighted in previous calls. Is it still too early to talk about monetizing any of those?

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Michael T.C. Prior, ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman [33]

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Yes. Yes, I mean, I think we -- you know we're -- we feel we're not in any rush to do that. In fact we love to build -- we like to build bigger businesses for the long term if we can.

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Hamed Khorsand, BWS Financial Inc. - Principal & Research Analyst [34]

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And then on now on the international side, you were talking about the broadband increase. Is that all coming from U.S. Virgin Islands or is Guyana in the mix as well?

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Michael T.C. Prior, ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman [35]

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It's multiple markets. It's not -- it's those markets, it's other markets. It's really...

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Justin D. Benincasa, ATN International, Inc. - CFO [36]

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It's all of them.

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Michael T.C. Prior, ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman [37]

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It's really most of -- most of our markets.

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Hamed Khorsand, BWS Financial Inc. - Principal & Research Analyst [38]

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And is the U.S. Virgin Islands back to being profitable or not yet?

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Michael T.C. Prior, ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman [39]

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It's EBITDA positive.

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Operator [40]

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And we have a follow-up from Allen Klee with Maxim Group.

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Allen Robert Klee, Maxim Group LLC, Research Division - Senior VP & Senior TMT Analyst [41]

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I was just curious if you had any specific color on what the competitive market of -- if you think how you're doing in Guyana and Bermuda?

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Michael T.C. Prior, ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman [42]

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No, I mean I think -- I think we're -- I think we try not to get into those individual markets, but I would say, from an overall basis, there are some markets where we think we're more or less where we should be from a competitive standpoint, and there's other markets where we think we can do better.

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Allen Robert Klee, Maxim Group LLC, Research Division - Senior VP & Senior TMT Analyst [43]

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Thank you.

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Michael T.C. Prior, ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman [44]

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Yes.

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Operator [45]

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And we have a follow-up from Rick Prentiss with Raymond James.

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Richard Hamilton Prentiss, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Head of Telecommunication Services Equity Research [46]

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Two quick follow-ups. First on the metrics, Michael, you mentioned the subscribers' broadband up 12% year-over-year to 125,000. Were there any changes? I know sometimes you guys re-categorize or have updates on the subscriber counts in the different segments and the different markets. Where there any updates in the way the subscriber metrics recalculated?

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Michael T.C. Prior, ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman [47]

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No, those are pretty straightforward. What we've done is taken out markets. If we've exited a market, we might remove them but for the most part those, numbers are pretty straightforward. But the one thing to point out though, Rick, is that if you look at the footnotes to the subscribers, that is the second footnote is important. So the growth, that -- the growth in revenue is larger than that subscriber line might imply. And that's really because, as that footnote points out, in the Virgin Islands, while the network was down, we just kept our pre Hurricane subscriber levels where they were unless and until we were able to offer them service and they declined. So they were still active customers but not -- we weren't able to provide the service, so we credit it back.

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Richard Hamilton Prentiss, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Head of Telecommunication Services Equity Research [48]

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Right. And are you at now where you think most of the customers have come back and you're either offering them service or they've, the address is no longer there. Just wondering how cleaned out is that number then on the USVI.

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Michael T.C. Prior, ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman [49]

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So, it's clean from the perspective of the people who are back in their houses with some exceptions. There are some exceptions, but the people who are back, we were able to offer them service and so that's relatively clean. They are still not an insignificant number of houses I've seen, estimated as high as 10% of the households that are not rebuilds that are waiting particularly under the federal fund plan for rebuild. Now, some of those may be occupied and capable of service. I wouldn't expect that to be a number you can rely on precisely but there is still some there. There is definitely still some win back opportunity for us. But you can look at this -- if you look at the video subs for example, right, it's down in that period but our actual video -- revenue generating video subs are up because of that -- virtually none of them were in the Virgin Islands were generating revenue last quarter -- last time a year ago.

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Richard Hamilton Prentiss, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Head of Telecommunication Services Equity Research [50]

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And is there any further FCC support that you might be able to get in the Islands?

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Michael T.C. Prior, ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman [51]

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Yes, absolutely. There is a long-term plan that's pretty significant that would partly replace existing support under the old high cost plan which was frozen in this market, like a lot of markets for a period of time. That's continuing while they wait to administer this new plan and decide on the final grants. So they identified 186 million over 10 years for this market. And you know but we -- they have not made the awards at this point.

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Richard Hamilton Prentiss, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Head of Telecommunication Services Equity Research [52]

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Any thought of, and obviously it's political and regulatory wise, but is it something you think might happen this calendar year or it slipped into next year?

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Michael T.C. Prior, ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman [53]

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We certainly hope so. I know their -- FCC has got a lot on their plate and they've been doing everything they can. But you know, for us, it's really difficult to operate without some certainty there. And some of the things we want to do -- additional things we want to do in terms of expanding the network and hardening it and all those things, we're really waiting to hear. So a way to look at that number is it's the -- it's not -- if all of that was awarded to us, it's not $18.6 million a year additive because there is roughly $16 million a year that we're getting today.

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Richard Hamilton Prentiss, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Head of Telecommunication Services Equity Research [54]

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Okay, all right. And then the last one for me, you kind of talked on the FCC being busy. Obviously they've got a lot on their plate. How do you think about the different spectrum bands that are being identified for 5G I think you guys did not participate in the 28- gigahertz, 24 gigahertz auction. But how do you think about spectrum and what might be coming available with the FCC focused on trying to find more?

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Michael T.C. Prior, ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman [55]

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Yes I think we're watching all those. I think it's possible maybe even probable that we'd participate in some that are being identified, but we're still trying to decide that. In certain places, so in our biggest retail operation in the U.S., is really the Virgin Islands. And we have very good spectrum assets there and depth there. But there -- but you're watching other things to try to understand how they might augment what you have and different technologies that are coming. So, it's probably too soon to tell. I don't think it's a huge coming expenditure for us overall, just given where our businesses are located. I think it's relatively smaller. And then in the wholesale business and some other businesses, it'll tend to be much more success oriented at what we do. So if there's a customer need that is identified or enterprise other types of uses.

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Richard Hamilton Prentiss, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Head of Telecommunication Services Equity Research [56]

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Okay. And the CBRS stuff would fall into that same discussion that you are having?

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Michael T.C. Prior, ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman [57]

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Exactly.

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Operator [58]

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Thank you. And this ends our Q&A session for today. I'd like to turn the call back over to management for closing remarks.

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Michael T.C. Prior, ATN International, Inc. - President, CEO & Chairman [59]

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Thank you, everybody, and we look forward to speaking with you in July. Take care.

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Operator [60]

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Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your participation in today's conference. This concludes the program. You may now disconnect. Everyone, have a great day.