Bell Aliant reports fourth quarter 2009 results and announces expanded fibre
to the home service coverage with 2010 financial guidance

    
    - Cost reductions improve 2009 EBITDA margin 1.5 percentage points over
      2008
    - Distributable cash reaches $773 million in 2009; expected to remain
      strong at $750 million - $790 million in 2010
    - FibreOP(TM) Internet and HDTV services on 100 per cent fibre optic
      network to pass 140,000 homes by year end 2010
    - 2010 Distributions expected to continue at $2.90 per unit
    - Unitholder vote regarding January 2011 conversion to corporate
      structure planned for June 2010
    

HALIFAX, Feb. 3 /CNW/ - Bell Aliant Regional Communications Income Fund (Bell Aliant or the Fund) (TSX: BA.UN) today reported the Fund's and Bell Aliant Regional Communications Holdings, LP's (Bell Aliant Holdings LP) fourth quarter 2009 financial results, and announced plans to expand its fibre to the home coverage as part of its 2010 financial guidance.

"Our 2009 results demonstrate that our strategy is working. Our EBITDA margins improved over 2008 performance despite growing competitive activity, because of action we took to reset our cost structure and grow our broadband business," said Karen Sheriff, President and Chief Executive Officer. "Our distributable cash generation was very strong, our service metrics continued to improve, and with our launch of our FibreOP(TM) fibre to the home service we are providing an unparalleled Internet and HDTV experience for our customers in those markets."

Bell Aliant Holdings LP's fourth quarter financial highlights

    
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    (In millions      Q4     Q4   Percentage       YTD      YTD   Percentage
     of dollars)    2009   2008       Change      2009     2008       Change
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Operating
     Revenue        $786   $803        (2.2%)   $3,174   $3,246        (2.2%)
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    EBITDA           366    366         0.0%     1,466    1,450         1.1%
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Capital
     Expenditures    121    167       (27.5%)      465      527       (11.8%)
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Distributable
     Cash            183    146        24.8%       773      716         8.1%
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    

Operating revenues were down 2.2 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2009 compared to the fourth quarter of 2008, primarily as a result of declines in local and long distance revenues associated with lower network access services (NAS), offset by increases in Internet and Information Technology (IT) revenues.

Despite the revenue declines, restructuring programs and ongoing cost containment initiatives reduced operating expenses by $18 million from the same quarter in 2008, maintaining EBITDA at $366 million, consistent with the fourth quarter of 2008. For the full year 2009, EBITDA improved $16 million or 1.1 per cent over 2008 performance with operating expenses down $88 million from the year before.

Local service and long distance revenue declined $15 million (4.1 per cent) and $9 million (8.6 per cent), respectively, in the fourth quarter of 2009 compared to the same quarter in 2008. NAS declined 5.0 per cent from a year earlier, as a result of increased competitive activity and the effects of a slower economy throughout 2009.

NAS declines in total were relatively stable in the fourth quarter of 2009 compared to the third quarter. Residential NAS declines were approximately 6,000 higher than the same quarter in 2008 with more residential customers having a competitive telephony offering than a year earlier. Business NAS declines were approximately 4,000 lower than those incurred in the fourth quarter of 2008 when business shutdowns and the completion of the federal election reduced NAS for that period.

Internet revenue grew by $7 million or 7.2 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008, with the number of high-speed Internet customers 7.0 per cent higher than a year ago and strong growth in Bell Aliant TV subscribers in 2009.

IT revenue increased $8 million or 14.2 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2009, driven by higher IT equipment sales than the same quarter a year ago. Other revenues declined $8 million or 14.9 per cent from the same quarter in 2008, mainly as a result of lower product sales and rentals.

Capital expenditures in the fourth quarter of 2009 were $121 million, down $46 million from the same quarter a year ago. This reflects a streamlined 2009 capital program and the completion of the Bell Mobility backhaul project which began in the fourth quarter of 2008. Capital intensity for the fourth quarter of 2009 was 15.4 per cent, bringing 2009's annual capital intensity to 14.6 per cent.

Distributable cash increased $36 million (24.8 per cent) in the fourth quarter of 2009 from the same period in 2008, mainly as a result of the lower capital program. Year over year, distributable cash increased $57 million (8.1 per cent) due to better operating performance and a lower capital program, which were offset slightly by declines in cash from discontinued operations.

The Fund reported distributions to unitholders of $92 million or $0.725 per unit for the quarter ended December 31, 2009.

2010 Guidance

"I am thrilled to announce that in 2010 we will more than double our 2009 spending on fibre technology to pass 140,000 homes with fibre to the home by the end of this year," said Sheriff. "With this investment we are accelerating and leveraging our natural assets of aerial footprint and low density geography to invest for the future. We expect to continue to gain efficiencies in our capital program, and this, in combination with the completion of a significant capital project in 2009, will allow us to advance our fibre network this year without increasing our overall capital spending from 2009 levels."

Specific communities scheduled to receive the fibre to the home services in 2010 are expected to be announced by mid year.

Bell Aliant's financial guidance for 2010 is as follows:

    
            -----------------------------------------------------
                                             2010 Guidance
            -----------------------------------------------------
            Operating Revenues    $3,050 million - $3,150 million
            -----------------------------------------------------
            Capital Intensity        14 per cent - 15 per cent
            -----------------------------------------------------
            Distributable Cash       $750 million - $790 million
            -----------------------------------------------------
    

Operating Revenues

Consolidated operating revenues are expected to be between $3,050 million and $3,150 million in 2010, down from $3,174 million in 2009. Growth in Internet, TV and IT revenues is expected to mitigate declines in local and long distance arising from continued growth in competitive overlap and substitution by other technologies.

Capital Intensity

Capital expenditures are expected to be between 14 per cent and 15 per cent of operating revenues in 2010 with strategic priority given to growing broadband. Increased spending in fibre to the home technology is expected to be offset by reductions resulting from a number of factors including: the completion of the Bell Mobility HSPA Backhaul project in 2009, productivity and cost containment initiatives, and a continued focus on prioritizing spending according to strategic objectives.

Distributable Cash and Distributions

Distributable cash is expected to remain between $750 million and $790 million, as improved operating performance achieved through restructuring and on-going productivity initiatives is expected to mitigate overall revenue declines. The distribution to unitholders per unit is expected to remain unchanged at $0.2417 per month or $2.90 per year for 2010.

Conversion to a Corporate Structure

Bell Aliant expects to recommend to Fund unitholders a tax-deferred transaction to convert from an income trust structure to a corporate structure effective on or by January 1, 2011. Details about the conversion terms and process and the anticipated dividend policy going forward are being developed and are expected to be released in May 2010 with a unitholder vote on conversion to a corporate structure expected to take place at Bell Aliant's 2010 Annual General Meeting, scheduled for June 16, 2010.

"Our objective is to deliver a sustainable high payout dividend to shareholders following January 1, 2011 when we become subject to taxation", said Ms. Sheriff. "With the introduction of taxes and the expected conversion still almost a year away, there are a number of factors influencing our outlook. Another quarter of competitive and economic experience will help us as we shape our future dividend policy."

Although a reduction to the current distribution is expected, as Bell Aliant has said in the past, it is important to note that for taxable retail investors, dividends paid by a corporation are taxed at lower rates than the distributions paid by Bell Aliant as an income trust. As such, under a corporate structure, the dividend tax credit mechanism can be expected to mitigate, to a large part, the after-tax effect of a lower dividend for those investors.

Supplementary Financial Information

More information on the Fund's and Bell Aliant Holdings LP's fourth quarter 2009 results can be found in Bell Aliant's fourth quarter 2009 supplementary information package and Bell Aliant Holdings LP's fourth quarter 2009 management's discussion and analysis, available at www.bellaliant.ca/investors.

Analyst conference call

A conference call with the financial community is scheduled for Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 3:00 p.m. (Eastern). The dial-in numbers are (866) 226-1792 or (416) 340-2216 for Toronto area participants. Media are invited to attend in a listen-only mode. The title of the call is "Bell Aliant Fourth Quarter 2009 Financial Results and 2010 Guidance." A replay of the session can be heard until February 17, 2010. To access the replay, dial (800) 408-3053 or (416) 695-5800 and enter the passcode 2226878#.

A live audio webcast of the conference call can be accessed on www.bellaliant.ca under the Investor Relations section. A replay of the conference call will be available on the website for one year.

Notes

The information contained in this news release is unaudited.

(1) Bell Aliant derives virtually all of its income from its indirect ownership in Bell Aliant Holdings LP. Bell Aliant Holdings LP's results combine the results of Bell Aliant Regional Communications, Limited Partnership (Bell Aliant LP), Télébec, Limited Partnership (Télébec) and NorthernTel, Limited Partnership (NorthernTel).

(2) On February 1, 2008, Bell Aliant Holdings LP completed the acquisition of the assets and operations of Kenora Municipal Telephone System (KMTS). Bell Aliant Holdings LP's financial results and subscriber metrics include KMTS data from that date onward.

(3) Percentage changes quoted in this release related to dollar values are based on amounts rounded to the nearest hundred-thousand, consistent with disclosure in the Fund's supplementary information package and Bell Aliant Holdings LP's management's discussion and analysis for the fourth quarter of 2009. Dollar values quoted in this release are rounded to the nearest million unless otherwise stated.

(4) Bell Aliant Holdings LP defines EBITDA, a non-GAAP measure, as operating revenue less expenses (earnings) before interest, income taxes, depreciation and amortization expense, net benefit plans cost, and restructuring and other charges. For a reconciliation of EBITDA to the most closely comparable GAAP measure, please refer to Bell Aliant Holdings LP's management's discussion and analysis for the fourth quarter of 2009.

(5) Bell Aliant defines capital intensity as capital expenditures as a percentage of operating revenue.

(6) Bell Aliant defines distributable cash, a non-GAAP measure, as cash from operating activities of continuing and discontinued operations of Bell Aliant Holdings LP and of the Fund, plus operating items funded through cash reserves or borrowings, such as working capital, pension deficit funding, restructuring and other charges and cash capital taxes in excess of normalized levels, plus amounts for current income tax provisions plus other elements of working capital changes that do not affect cash flow, less capital expenditures. For a reconciliation of distributable cash to the most closely comparable GAAP measure, please refer to Bell Aliant Holdings LP's management's discussion and analysis for the fourth quarter of 2009.

Forward-looking Information

This news release contains forward-looking statements concerning anticipated future events, results, circumstances or expectations, in particular as described in the "2010 Guidance" and "Conversion to a Corporate Structure" sections of this news release. Unless otherwise indicated, such forward-looking statements describe management's expectations at February 3, 2010. These statements are based on management's beliefs regarding future events, many of which, by their nature are inherently uncertain and beyond management's control. These statements are not guarantees of future performance and are subject to assumptions which may prove to be inaccurate and numerous risks and uncertainties which are difficult to predict.

Assumptions

Several assumptions were made in the preparation of Bell Aliant's 2010 financial guidance and in making forward-looking statements in this news release, such as economic assumptions, market assumptions, and financial assumptions. The material factors and assumptions used to develop this forward-looking information include:

a) Economic Assumptions

    
    - The Canadian economy will gradually return to a period of growth after
      contracting in 2009, with real GDP growth expected to be in the range
      of 2 to 3 per cent after declining by an estimated 2 per cent in 2009,
      consistent with recent estimates from the Conference Board of Canada
      and the Bank of Canada;
    - Inflation rates will increase modestly as the consumer price index is
      expected to rise in the range of 1.7 to 2.2 per cent for 2010; and
    - Interest rates will also increase modestly, as represented by:
       - Banker's acceptances and other short-term borrowing rates increasing
         from current levels of less than 0.5 per cent to a level of
         approximately 1.5 to 2.0 per cent;
       - Government of Canada 2 to 10-year bond yields increasing from
         current levels of approximately 1.3 to 3.4 per cent to rates of
         approximately 2.3 to 4.1 per cent; and
       - Credit spreads on bonds for corporate issuers like Bell Aliant LP
         remaining approximately the same as current levels.
    

b) Market Assumptions

    
    - Households passed with a competitive cable telephony offering will
      increase at approximately the same pace as Bell Aliant has experienced
      in recent quarters;
    - Bell Aliant will increase the number of households passed in its
      territory with Internet service and increase the penetration rate for
      its high-speed Internet and TV services;
    - Competitive and service substitution losses in local and long-distance
      services will increase slightly from those experienced in 2009;
    - Internet revenue growth will be lower than 2009 given slowing growth in
      high-speed penetration rates and accelerating losses of dial-up
      Internet revenues, offset by higher average revenues per customer and
      strong growth in revenue from TV services;
    - Data revenue will decline at a similar rate as 2009 due to price
      pressures, competitive losses and settlement rate declines; and
    - IT revenue will grow modestly from 2009 levels as the economy returns
      to positive growth.
    

c) Financial Assumptions

    
    - Operating revenue will decline from the 2009 level of $3,174 million to
      be in the range of $3,050 million to $3,150 million;
    - Capital intensity will be in the range of 14.0 to 15.0 per cent of
      operating revenue, compared to 14.6 per cent in 2009;
    - Distributable cash will also be in approximately the same range as 2009
      at $750 million to $790 million, compared to $773 million in 2009;
    - Pension deficit funding for 2010 will be in the range of $80 to
      $110 million, compared to $74 million in 2009. This range is based on
      potential discount rates for plan obligations at December 31, 2009, and
      applies existing legislated federal pension funding rules. These
      estimates may be significantly impacted by contemplated new solvency
      funding rules as announced by the federal Finance Minister on October
      27, 2009, however Bell Aliant currently has no clarity on how the new
      rules, if implemented, could affect 2010 deficit funding requirements.
      Current service cost funding, which was $69 million in 2009, is
      expected to be approximately the same in 2010.
    - Taxable income is expected to be subject to blended federal and
      provincial corporate income tax rates of 29 per cent in 2011, dropping
      to 27 per cent by 2013; and
    - Dividends paid by Bell Aliant are expected to qualify as eligible
      dividends entitling Canadian resident individuals who receive them to
      the enhanced dividend gross-up and tax credit mechanism that ensures
      that corporate income distributed as interest or dividends is subject
      to the same combined corporate and individual tax burden.
    

Bell Aliant encourages investors to review the risk factors section below, and related disclosures, for a discussion of the various factors that could cause actual results to differ from what is currently expected.

Risk Factors

There are many factors that could cause results or events to differ materially from current expectations. The most significant factors that Bell Aliant has identified that may affect Bell Aliant's results or events in 2010 include but are not limited to: increasing competition; management's ability to achieve strategies and plans, including management of our cost structure; general economic conditions; reliance on systems; changing technology; required operating and capital expenditures, including asset life cycle management; demand for our services; the relationship with BCE and Bell Canada and the allocation of business opportunities; pension plan funding; changing regulations; dependence on key suppliers; liquidity and financing risk; leverage and restrictive covenants; BCE's governance rights; reliance on key personnel and labour relations, including the requirement for effective business continuity planning; legal contingencies and changes in laws, including laws pertaining to privacy and security of customer information; the Fund's reliance on distributions from Bell Aliant Holdings LP; foreign exchange rates; changing tax rates and changing taxation rules for income trusts. For a detailed discussion of these risk factors and how they could impact our results, please refer to the "Risk management" sections of the Fund's and Bell Aliant Holdings LP's 2008 annual Management's discussion and analysis (MD&A), as updated by their 2009 quarterly MD&As, as well as the "Risk Factors" sections of their 2008 Annual Information Forms. These documents are available at www.bellaliant.ca and www.sedar.com.

Should any factor impact Bell Aliant in an unexpected manner, or should assumptions underlying the forward-looking statements prove incorrect, the actual results or events may differ materially from the results or events predicted. All of the forward-looking statements made in this press release are qualified by these cautionary statements, and there can be no assurance that the results or developments anticipated by Bell Aliant will be realized or, even if substantially realized, that they will have the expected consequences for Bell Aliant.

Except as may be required by Canadian securities laws, Bell Aliant disclaims any intention and assumes no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statement even if new information becomes available, as a result of future events or for any other reason. Readers should not place undue reliance on any forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements are provided for the purpose of providing information about management's current expectations and plans relating to fiscal 2010. Readers are cautioned that such information may not be appropriate for other purposes.

About Bell Aliant

Bell Aliant (TSX: BA.UN) is one of North America's largest regional communications providers and an Official Supporter of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Through its operating entities it serves customers in six Canadian provinces with innovative information, communication and technology services including voice, data, Internet, video and value-added business solutions. Through its xwave offices, Bell Aliant also provides IT professional services and advanced technology solutions. Bell Aliant's employees are committed to deliver the highest quality of customer service, choice and convenience.

%SEDAR: 00023938EF

SOURCE Bell Aliant Inc.

For further information: For further information: Media Relations: Alyson Queen, (866) 696-6700, alyson.queen@bellaliant.ca; Investor Relations: Zeda Redden, (877) 487-5726, zeda.redden@bellaliant.ca

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