Aircel woes: tower firms, land lessors hit too

Along with subscribers of Aircel, telecom tower companies and telecom land lessors have also been affected due to the bankruptcy issue, with at least one tower company claiming that Aircel owes it ₹500 crore while some land lessors say they have not received rent for the past four months.

One of Aircel’s tower partners, GTL Infra said the company owes it ₹500 crore and it started defaulting on payments from October 2017, a spokesperson for GTL Infra said. “GTL Infra has strong contractual arrangements with Aircel, with long-term lock-in arrangements up to the year 2030. ₹500 crore is part of the operational outstandings,” he said.

Stock tanks

Early this month, GTL Infra cut its revenue forecast, on the back of Aircel filing for bankruptcy, leading its stock tanking by as much as 20%.

“Aircel contributed 43% of the revenues of the company as on March 2017. On account of the operator exiting our towers, the Revenue annualized run rate going forward is ₹1,325 crore against an outlook of ₹2,600 crore for FY 2017-18,” the spokesperson said.

In 2010, GTL Infra acquired 17,500 towers from Aircel for ₹8,200 crore. The towers had 21,000 tenancies – each tower can host connections from multiple telecom companies – and also a commitment that it would get 20,000 connections from Aircel, which had big plans for expansion way back when the deal between the two companies was finalised.

GTL Infra has about 28,000 towers located across all the 22 telecom circles in India and is one of the largest telecom tower operators in the country.

GTL approached the National Company Law Tribunal earlier this week, seeking an investigation into Aircel by an interim resolution professional to safeguard the interests of lenders and creditors.

Another company with a large exposure to Aircel is Indus Towers. A questionnaire sent by email to Indus did not receive a response till the time of going to press.

Bharti Infratel and American Tower Corporation, which too provided tower services to Aircel, did not respond to e-mails sent seeking details of their agreements.

Land lessors hit

Meanwhile, an association of telecom tower lessors has flagged the issue of non-payment of rent for the past 4-5 months by tower operators.

The bankruptcy filing by Aircel has hit everyone in the business chain.

“Aircel put up towers on lessor’s properties and then GTL came in. Most people who have let out their land / property don’t even know who runs these companies and who is paying the rent,” B. Senthil Kumar, founder-president, Welfare Association of Telecom Tower Lessors, told The Hindu.

Mr. Kumar alleged that once the towers were set up, the land was not maintained properly. “If the lessor wants the towers to be dismantled, they need to know who to approach first. There is so much of a grey area in this regard. Also, the land must be returned in the original condition, but we don’t know if this is likely to happen,” he said.

The GTL spokesperson said the issue was that Aircel had been defaulting on payments since October 2017.

“Rent is a pass-through as it comes from the operator’s infrastructure provisioning fee (IPF), which is unpaid to us.”

Resolution soon

According to Mr. Kumar, GTL had sent out letters to lessors that their issues would be resolved. “They (lessors) don’t know when a new (telecom) operator will come (to take up the tenancies). They all signed agreements with these companies because they were getting a good amount as rent,” he pointed out.

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