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Robert Syputa  

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  • Will Sprint Bounce Back? [View article]
    Sprint, or any other major US wireless network, or cable operator for that matter, will go out bankrupt in a way a maker of non-essential consumer goods or another firm might normally be expected to do so.

    For starters, telecommunications is considered an essential service that is governed and also protected by the regulatory apparatus and legal framework in which it operates. Some fellow analysts point out that no major US utility has ever gone bankrupt in the way some think - the breakup and selling off of assets. Some parts of the business might be downsized and/or restructured. About 2/3rds of Sprint's Band 41 2.5-2.6GHz spectrum is leased from the EBS license holders. Clauses in most lease arrangements normally include a default termination clause. Even if the contracts do not contain such a clause, unused portions of the EBS spectrum would likely be contested as being up for grabs. In any case, sub-leases on EBS spectrum have attracted very little interest among competitors because they are 'site licenses' given to religious/educational institutions to cover from local campuses or a wider range of patchwork sites that makes it difficult to deploy on a national basis needed for competitive operation.

    What is more likely to happen if Sprint fails to rise in meteoric fashion to recoup past losses, is that the company will head into a court-regulator-Softbank plus other vested interests managed debt and company restructuring. This has looked increasingly likely for some time. As further results have shown no reversal in fortune is in sight, this looks more likely than not IMO. As mentioned I project Sprint (S) will head into managed insolvency restructuring in the 2017-2018 time period. That could be stretched out, but it is unlikely to be prevented.. and it is not a bad option for Softbank or Sprint customers given the situation. Shareholders would get the same deal as Softbank: devaluation of current stake with more money being put up under the restructuring in return for a new class of shares or that dilutes current holders.

    That, of course, is speculation. The options are narrowing.
    Nov 23, 2015. 01:17 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Will Sprint Bounce Back? [View article]
    Everything you said ignores one basic fact: High band spectrum costs 2x-3x more to deploy into to reach the same level of coverage and building penetration. This raises the cost relative to competitors who are using a higher degree of low and mid-band spectrum.

    Spectrum has a value based on a. what someone is willing to pay for it, or b. what it generates in profits. Any other valuation placed on spectrum is speculative. Common stock shareholders are not Sprint. They hold a subordinated paper position in the highly regulated company. If Sprint goes into financial reorganization, stockholders likely retain no value derived from the spectrum. The majority of the 2.5GHz-2.6GHz Band 41 spectrum is sub-leased from license holders. So long as investors are inclined to wild speculation about unaccomplished prospects for profiting from spectrum and valuations, if Sprint goes into financial reorganization the contracts Sprint holds for sub-leases may become void or contested in court or by the FCC, resulting in the spectrum being put up for grabs by competitive operators.

    Sprint has had access to the LTE Band 41 spectrum for several years, borrowing billions of dollars to put it to use which has resulted in a higher cost, lower coverage competitive position. The formula you describe has not changed over the past seven years. It has proven to be in error because it fails to overcome the inherent obstacle it is had from the start, high density is required which costs more to achieve a national footprint. Current Sprint-Softbank efforts have shown only that improvements using LTE-Advanced methods are possible that allow catching up in major metro areas. However, it costs more than competitors, resulting in losses. The resulting improvement in network performance fails to take back market share from competitors.

    Doing more of what has proven to fail in the past, coupled with bone-deep cost cutting provides, at best, a pathway to operate a downsized operation that focuses on urban settings.
    Nov 22, 2015. 09:30 AM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Sprint investors react poorly to sale-leaseback scheme [View news story]
    Many of you have your heads stuck in the sand and fail to understand how Sprint's situation has evolved. Sprint's overriding concern for stock investors is its debt obligations and the impact on competitiveness that is having.

    Sprint has nearly run out of money and the ability to get additional financing. Sprint must pay back about $17 billion of the principal on the over $33 billion in junk bond rated debt over the next six years. To do that, the company must cut costs and stimulate sales to keep from dropping further in market share, resulting in spiraling downward in profit/loss.

    Sprint has been engaged in leasing and competitors have joined them. Leasing is a form of financing the cost of devices. If handled internally it ties up billions of dollars in capital. Sprint has about $3billion tied up in lease arrangements. Third party leasing reduces the amount of capital by the amount of internal leases transferred less a discount. It does not 'save' Sprint money as many have erroneously reported. It does not create new sales. All leasing does is pull in the receipt of the sales in return for what amounts to a finance charge paid to the leasing company. Nobody pulls free money off of a tree named 'the leasing/lending tree'.

    Sprint has been losing money DESPITE what should be a period of profiting from past years of network disruption for LTE deployments and past sales campaigns that repeatedly promised to have reached a turnaround in subscribers and sales. Sprint was promised, repeatedly, to be on an upward trajectory.

    The problem has come home to roost; Sales declined while losses increased last quarter. The meager gain in subscribers due to price competition, or the 'buying of customers', failed to lift Sprint's fortunes.

    To avoid default on debt starting to come due in 2016, Sprint must a. Cut costs to the bone. This must/is going beyond the normal 'trimming the fat' measures. b. Increase sales. c. Pull in every bit of cash flow and push out payments.

    Third party leasing is a form of short-term borrowing. That is exactly how debt holders and credit ratings will analyze it. If it generates incremental profits, then its positive, if used to 'buy customers' and the customers do not buy in sufficient numbers, then lease borrowing accelerates losses. Its very much 'a numbers game' that can flip either way.

    What has financial markets understandably concerned is that Sprint has a poor tract record. Selling at a lower price only makes sense if you can build your product at a lower cost. Sprint has a higher cost of building networks due to the predominant use of 2.5-2.6GHz spectrum and lack of innovation in how they go about doing that.

    Sprint's future needs the miracle of innovation, not out of sync cutting of prices to buy customers. The most likely outcome is that Sprint will head into some form of court-regulator managed bankruptcy within three years.
    Nov 21, 2015. 02:18 PM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Sprint (S) R. Marcelo Claure on Q2 2015 Results - Earnings Call Transcript [View article]
    The math is not so simple.

    Sprint has built up deficits that must be replenished by earnings. These include deficits in the competitive mix of spectrum needed to build today's 'network of networks' that span low-mid-high band spectrum to achieve a competitive level of bandwidth-to-coverage. Sprint ranks in a distant 4th place in this key network performance metric.

    Sprint is forced to do deep cuts in spending because repayment of long term loans/bonds is coming due starting in 2016. The capital spent over the past decade+ has resulted in accumulation of losses since 2007. Capex spending in the wireless industry occurs in waves as more spectrum is made available and each new generation of network equipment is deployed, replacing the last and requiring the population of a new generation of devices as well. If that has not resulted in, at least, paying off the last generation/wave of debt, the tank is empty for the move into the next generation of networks and services.. as is very much the case with Sprint.

    There is a disconnect in thinking that cost savings returns to the bottom line. Over the next six years, about $29 billion in cost savings will be used to repay the principal and ongoing interest on past generation of indebtedness. ($17B in principal repayment and $12B in interest payments on the ~$34B debt, which is, at this point, still growing).
    Nov 6, 2015. 07:15 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Is It Time To Upgrade To Verizon After Its AOL Acquisition? [View article]
    Verizon is taking very cautious steps.. it is not pushing out a widescale LTE eMBMS technology video service as was on-again, off-again planned. The acuisition of AOL made sense - Although AOL's business has languished for years, it holds a fair number of patents and technical expertise in addition to an service platform for content that Verizon can, at least, see a payback on its investment. The longer term potential is in the advertising and content delivery platform AOL can help to build.

    The less risky approach represented by go90 is to offer ad based service that can build into a scaleable platform for future services. It is risky in that if it is a success it can become something like YouTube or NetFlix growth period.. requiring capital to deal with the growth before it nets positive results in ad, premium content or mobile payments revenues. However, that is the nature of the beast.. you either do it or fail by being too conservative as has been typical of mobile operator's ventures into direct and OTT of video services.

    Verizon might have led into video services with eMBMS platform that would attempt to directly compete with cable and satellite TV with a lineup of competitive TV and movie content. That requires devices that work using the eMBMS AWS frequency channels which would take time and money to scale. It also would only apply to saturation of VZ's customer base.

    Verizon is being calculating/cautious in their approach.. if it builds legs they can then migrate toward the eMBMS as aggressively as that makes sense from a risk/reward perspective.
    Oct 24, 2015. 01:36 PM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Is There Froth In The Water For Sprint? [View article]
    Understand what likely makes up the short interest: Sprint has had from about 60 million to 145 million shares short. Historically the number had dropped to the low end of the range when Sprint (S) stock price dropped. The core holding probably contains 30-50 million shares shorted as a hedge against the debt position. What helped spur the buy of an additional 5% holding was further short selling as S reached the low water mark in the price range. Put is simply, Sprint's stock was under attack and that threatened any attempt by Softbank to refinance some of its debt or offload long term debt requirements for short term lease and vendor finance arrangements.

    As the float narrows towards the 15% target short interest becomes more vulnerable. However, Softbank, a foreign company, is very unlikely to be allowed to acquire the remaining 15% stake in the US company. The premise for short sales remains untouched: Sprint is unprofitable and must increase its pace of capex investment in order to keep up with competition. If the long term prospects improve, short interest may drop over time. For now, it remains a hedge against dilution of the stock and reorganization of the debt instruments.

    Softbank's buying came in response to increased short selling at a time when the stock had dropped to near long term lows. This was an 'offensive defense' strategy and can, until the fundamentals change significantly, will remain so.
    Sep 5, 2015. 11:54 AM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Is There Froth In The Water For Sprint? [View article]
    That little birdie sounds like so much uninformed bullshisa heard over the years. Yahoo, Google, and Alibaba try to do as much business as they can with all operators. I have followed the operators and the Internet services providers for over 15 years, interviewing and meeting with them during which I have repeatedly asked about their positioning on services between operators and service suppliers. They are in business to work with operators but very seldom do exclusive deals because that would jeopardise their relationships with others in the broader market.

    The broad statements are meaningless: what does it mean in the unlikely event that the rumor were true? What financial benefit can Sprint receive from Yahoo, Alibaba that will not similarly be available to all others?
    Sep 3, 2015. 12:09 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Sprint Continues To Be Desperate [View article]
    That is likely the case. However, the chain of events was very untypical of short selling in general and Sprint in particular: Short interest has continued to rise over the last two reporting periods. The SI data is the reported for the previous two week period with some of that data being dated by the time it is compiled and reported 2-5 days latter. Nonetheless, the increase was sustained through the period of the decline. Near 3.10 the stock began a technical bounce and was on the way up when Softbank initiated buying. That very likely led to some short covering that added to momentum and Softbank's buy volume.

    Sprint must increase the number of subscribers in order to make their network capex spending work. A basic problem with using higher frequency 2.5-2.6GHz Band 41 spectrum is that it requires higher density to achieve coverage and in-building penetration. That comes at a proportionally higher cost that creates a supply vs. demand ROI problem for Sprint that has persisted over the past 15 odd years they have held amounts of the spectrum. "If we build it, we must fill it" is a warping of the 'if you build it, they will come' axiom that fits.
    Sep 3, 2015. 11:06 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Is There Froth In The Water For Sprint? [View article]
    That is hardly so obvious: Sprint could be viewed as spiraling out of control financially despite the yet figurative degree of 'turn around'. Sprint has a $35 billion+ debt. Because of the much worse credit rating than Verizon or AT&T, Sprint pays about 4 points higher interest rates. Unable to borrow to the degree needed to remain long-term competitive in networks, the near term improvement in network performance as reported by RootMetrics and other surveys, can be seen as a cyclical stage of competitive improvement that will pass.

    RootMetrics most recent report continues to show that Sprint lags in bandwidth-to-coverage. What that means: Sprint uses 2.5-2.6GHz extensively. While that provides high bandwidth where it covers, penetration into buildings and less urban areas is lower. The average service quality must be understood based on a further read of such reports. Both Sprint and T-Mobile have less robust and deep service capacity than VErizon or AT&T.

    I and other analysts have asked the questions about the rationale and impacts of Softbank's buying of Sprint shares:

    Sprint's stock was under attack by short sellers: for the first time in over 10 years, short selling in Sprint (S) increased as the stock plunged down to long term lows near $3.10. Short interest during that period shot to the last reported level of 143 million shares which was at the time Softbank began acquiring the additional ~5% to bring their total, if fully executed, to 85%. Sprint had previously announced an outline of a plan to deploy about 70,000 additional or updated smallcell multiple-band base stations. Vendor financing would provide a form of a short term loan that pays for equipment, leaving the larger expense of site and deployment expense yet unaccounted for. Short sellers, including hedge funds and probably debt holders, surmised that Sprint would be forced to dilute the shares with an inconveniently timed equity offering. Financial analysts, including Moffett forecast that Sprint would run out of financial rope sometime in 2016. A financial analysis showed that Sprint was vulnerable to a financial spiral that would drive down the stock in the face of inability to borrow to keep up the pace of industry network improvements and expansion into mobile media. Therefore, a prime motivation was to reverse the bear raid by short sellers that was helping to drive the stock price down to $3 and possibly lower. Softbank saw the combined threat and opportunity: an investment at the time of higher short interest could drive short coverage and bullish short-term trend buying. Due to circumstances, an investment of 'just' a few hundred millions could improve the value of Softbank's stake by billions of dollars. The recent reports show valuation has increased by about $7 billion since Softbank initiated the increase in position. Overall increase from the low is higher, at about $11 billion as a technical bounce was underway.

    Investors who know enough, soon enough, can ride the trends. The trends in the stock caused by technical trading dynamics, (a technical bounce for example), or by a corporate stock accumulation do not have direct impact on the fundamentals of network competitiveness or cash flows. A probably rationale was to prevent further deterioration in ability to finance network improvements needed to step up and maintain competitiveness long enough for it to matter, i.e. pay off some of the massive debt, refinance at more favorable rates to reduce debt service under the current $0.45 billion per quarterly drain.
    Sep 1, 2015. 04:20 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Why A Comcast And T-Mobile Merger Would Be A Blessing In Disguise For Sprint [View article]
    The FCC and DOJ want Sprint to innovate competitively using LTE-Advanced technology. Sprint's spectrum is suited to smallcells similar enough to 2.4GHz WiFi that borders the 2.5GHz band. There is no excuse for being out of date in the approach to network design and deployments.

    FCC+DOJ won't allow Sprint to merge with T-Mobile despite having already been headed toward bankruptcy at the time Softbank, a foreign company, was given the highly unusual, (first and only time), to acquire over 80% of Sprint. Softbank/Masa Son, at that time, promised to turn Sprint into an engine of technological and market innovation that would show competitors to have been moribund in their ways. It was not part of the bargain that we now ignore the promises of innovation as a customary lie. Masa Son's feet should be held to the fire to, instead, innovate enough to become profitably competitive in networks and services. Our, government should not now allow yet another national carrier to be acquired by Softbank, a foreign entity, with no clear plan to do more than strip out costs in order to become more useful to our society.

    Innovation requires fresh methods, not just layering of marketing approaches on top of bankrupt networks. Integration of network and business approaches that results in more competitive network is feasible but requires disruptive innovation. Or Sprint can go out of business by attrition of networks and subscriber base to competitors over several years and billions of additional losses that Softbank must shoulder.

    Innovate or die.
    Sep 1, 2015. 03:30 AM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Sprint Continues To Be Desperate [View article]
    The question of the timing of the offer is misplaced: Sprint and all mobile operators are in the business of spending multiple billions of dollars up front on networks, services, device development and fielding, and operations that must result in requisite gains in subscription revenue. Sprint's market position, along with T-mobile, forces them to compete based on price and creative packaging of services if they hope to capture share from market leaders Verizon and AT&T.

    The industry has matured and become saturated. Systemic of that, Sprint recently reported their lowest rate of churn in company history. While that signals a probable end to the damaging period of network disruption caused subscriber churn, it also signals that it has become difficult for operators to take share from each other. Networks have gravitated towards use of the same core technology platforms, coverage and service quality metrics, and devices... i.e. service has become more a commodity with narrower differentiation between operators. In this competitive climate every significant shift among major operators in their networks and service offerings, particularly those which are disruptive to current customer relationships, must be pursued. Sprint is seizing on the obvious:

    AT&T's acquisition of DTV creates a decision point for a large portion of DTV's 20.3 million subscribers who must choose whether to stay with one of AT&T's competitors, including Sprint's subs, or take advantage of a discount offered for AT&T+DTV and the convenience of a single bill.

    In a low churn environment, the time to strike is when a significant slice of the market faces a decision.

    Sprint's decision to offer DTV customers a free year of service makes good sense: The cost of acquiring new customers (rather than add-on subscriptions) equates to several hundred dollars. It has proven very difficult for Sprint to take back some of the greater than 11 million subs lost
    over the past few years, making this a lesser of evils marketing attempt.

    Another aspect is that Sprint must rebuild while carving out a new image based on the more mature carrier environment. While not likely to call it such, Sprint must present the image of the "Un-Carrier" operator alongside T-Mobile. While these two spar with each other, the main message is that they are willing to fight against the BORG Empire established by their nemesis Verizon and AT&T. Sprint must break the mold in respect to how the company has come to be perceived: holding on for too long to past networks that caused too little gains compared to pain for customers.

    This move does come with a cost. However, Sprint does not have the luxury of having accomplished the goal of 'best network', coming from behind VZ and T in coverage and bandwidth-to-coverage metrics in most markets. Even while S has made improvements, the brand perception lags, making the give away of service to fill up the network a good move.

    Furthermore, in a low churn, mature market, the decision point for gaining new subscribers has narrowed. That focussing of opportunities down to the choice moments when customers are making decisions places more emphasis on overcoming barriers to change: since operators look more alike in network quality and coverage and devices offered, the chrysalis of the decision hinges more on user device-dependent usage habits. users have become more attached to their devices rather than the network it runs on. At the point they are faced with a decision that otherwise forces them to change the device is the exact time to strike with aggressive marketing offers.

    Sprint's Direct 2 You personal sales campaign helps to transition customers to new devices by porting over setup, contacts and applications. While not avilable everywhere, it fits in well with the free year of service offer.

    Sprint has remaining issues of higher cost-to-coverage of network deployments that plague the bottom line. This sales offer is not aimed at a quick fix to the miserable cash flow situation but is on target for the dynamics of the market environment.
    Aug 30, 2015. 10:10 AM | 4 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Oppenheimer: Comcast may be most likely buyer for T-Mobile [View news story]
    Mobile tying up with content and invading the broadband Internet space is a fact of life: the 'XYZ Generation' is coming up using only mobile devices for everything outside of school or workplace broadband connections. And while many typical households retain cable, fiber or DSL connections and a VoIP or wireless phone connection, the usage has been shifting to the point that cutting the cord becomes an easier choice. That leaves the cablecos in a market that is destined towards shrinking. While that has long been talked about in the past, it is now the reality of the business environment.

    The shift to mobile networks is not something that has been figurative.. just a concept that never happens: The technology shift to MIMO-OFDMA based LTE wireless and IP networks has been long in development for a reason: the capacity and cost factor had to reach a crossing point where it could replace cable and fiber for all but the highest capacity requirements. It has reached that point... but that is an oversimplification. It is not wireless networks per se that have reached a crossing point with wired networks but ICT, Internet and Communications Technology, industry which is a convergence of wired and wireless transport. To deliver high wireless capacity at low latency for video, VoLTE and cloud applications requires hybrid wired-wireless networks. That makes the merger of wireless and cable companies potentially more profitable and, certainly, more survivable for the cablecos.

    Will Comcast try to acquire T-Mobile or basket case Sprint? That remains unclear. Deutsche Telkom is rightly in no hurry to sell T-Mobile. Comcast might use advances in WiFi and more unlicensed spectrum to push their own form of near-mobile or what used to be called 'nomadic' wireless experience. Thus far that does not appear to show much promise. T-Mobile may, on the other hand, wait for mobile broadband to erode marketshare from cable while giving away more WiFi routers to provide indoor WiFi-to-4G coverage for mobile devices. With DISH running into its own paradox about what to do with spectrum, T-Mo may find it is in a better position to pick up assets and gain share as cable and satellite head into steeper decline.
    Aug 26, 2015. 11:21 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Oppenheimer: Comcast may be most likely buyer for T-Mobile [View news story]
    A combination with DISH Network would be a fair choice. However, Comcast is better imo:

    A frequent assumption is that the combined spectrum of DISH plus T-mobile would catapult the combined company to a leadership position. That may not be quite so: the FCC guidelines calls for no operator to hold more than 1/3 of a bandwidth category of low, mid, or high frequency band spectrum. TMUS+DISH would go very close or over that limit in the mid-band. That might cause the FCC to force a portion to be sold or exchanged with another carrier for low (unlikely) or high band spectrum (more likely as Sprint would likely be willing to swap some of their messy LTE Band 41 for mid-band).

    The combination with DISH would make sense regardless of possibly being required to divulge some mid band. However, DISH has no terrestrial network, no base stations, no backhaul network or fiber optic grid network.

    Comcast does not have spectrum. However, it has capital and borrowing capacity and has the benefit of being preferred by Deutsche Telekom according to their CEO. Importantly, Comcast and other cablecos have the most extensive networks of fiber optic and broadband cable that can serve as fronthaul/backhaul to the 'massively densified' mobile network envisioned for the future. The combined Comcast+T-Mobile could build upon the combined infrastructure that exploits convergence of mobile broadband and cable/fiber assets.

    What's more, DOCSIS 3.1+ provides a path to increase the cable plant to ~750Mbps now to over 1.2Gbps over the next five years with the lower latency needed to support VoLTE and real time video services. Comcast/cablecos bring content services to the table that can be sold as a combined part of quad-play fixed-mobile services starting now.
    Aug 23, 2015. 12:32 PM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Oppenheimer: Comcast may be most likely buyer for T-Mobile [View news story]
    Telecommunications companies in general get much scorn from consumers. However, both of these companies have tens of millions of customers.. the market votes with their wallets every day and they pass well enough.

    Cable companies have among he worst consumer opinion ratings of all service businesses. The jokes about 'the cable guy' showing up at the wrong time if at all is common lore. Wireless users typically have a love-hate relationship with their service providers.. they complain and complain but, in the end, continue to buy the service.

    That is not what this merger is about: the coming together of cable and wireless is inevitable because broadband usage is converging.

    Comcast is a cash-cow business that has complementary infrastructure and content delivery assets that can be leveraged over wireless networks. Cable is at a stage of saturation with decline in the offing as wireless broadband eats into traditional wired services. So, the logic that Comcast is the best suitor for T-Mobile is a no brainer.
    Aug 20, 2015. 08:14 PM | 3 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Google's Project Fi: Who Gets Hurt? [View article]
    This question is the whimsy of stock or industry newbie speculators . Google will never buy a major mobile/ICT operator because that is a basic conflict with their business model. This speculation misconstrues Google's tinkering around the edges of the various bit transport media and technologies that are intended to spur industry innovation and adoption of technology towards open, high-bandwidth pipes. Google's business model must have access to all major transport media with least amount of walling off of media/content, advertising, payment platforms, and, or course, search in all its forms.

    Google went to great lengths to assure mobile/ICT operators around the world that their Project Fi efforts aspirations are limited to pushing the edges of interworking between WiFi and WRAN, Wide-area Radio Access Networks that would not much compete with their mobile industry partners.

    Name one Google effort that has grown to compete with major network operators. Name one technology project that has changed the industry.

    Google helped develope White Spaces technology which was lame by design.

    Google's fiber optic project remains limited to a few metro areas... and has 1% of the US population as subscribers.

    Project Fi presents a similar intentionally castrated adoption model: While it shows promise as an example for how current technologies and standards can be put to service as a 'best connected network of networks', it is being offered to a limited number of users, using one mobile device (for now anyway).

    Mobile operators remain in strong control over their environment: WiFi is limited in range by regulation of the spectrum it rides on: the frequencies made available are 'junk spectrum' once deemed unsuitable for mobile use. What makes it suitable is that individuals and companies (the public) deploy hundreds of millions of WiFi routers at there cost with a few million (a few percent) deployed by operators or partnering HotSpot operators. WiFi will remain castrated by design with the primary choice for widespread connectivity remaining the use of WRAN networks.
    Aug 10, 2015. 09:46 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment