With the FCC expected to establish new rules for the 700 MHz D Block spectrum this month, the Public Safety Spectrum Trust will pursue regional commercial partners and has altered its financial relationship with adviser Cyren Call Communications.

After the failure of the D Block to attract a qualifying bid earlier this year after being auctioned as a nationwide license, representatives of wireless carriers repeatedly have expressed doubt that a bidder would emerge from another auction if the 10 MHz of spectrum is offered on a nationwide basis with public-safety obligations. Industry observers have noted that none of the existing nationwide carriers are inclined to make such a move and regional carriers lack the resources to do so.

With this in mind, PSST board members last month voted unanimously to pursue the option of regional D Block licenses, which could make the economics of the proposed public/private partnership to build and maintain a 700 MHz wireless broadband network for public safety more palatable to commercial operators.

PSST Chairman Harlin McEwen said the PSST remains steadfast that the 10 MHz of public-safety broadband spectrum remain a nationwide license — currently held by the PSST — and still would prefer a nationwide D Block licensee, but the board supported consideration of regionalized commercial licenses, he said.

While most agree that regional licensees would make the proposed public/private partnership more feasible to commercial partners, there have been concerns that such a model could result in technological incompatibility and make negotiations with the PSST so complex that it might be difficult to realize the desired nationwide broadband service for public safety.

Others have feared that more highly populated regions would receive bids in an auction, but more rural areas would not, potentially leaving large areas of the country without a commercial partner to build out a 700 MHz network for public safety. McEwen acknowledged that these issues exist, saying “that's what we'll have to work on” to make a regionalized commercial D Block plan viable.

At the same August meeting, the PSST board also voted to reduce the total amount of money it could borrow from Cyren Call from $12 million to $6 million.

“We have scaled back our financial relationship with Cyren because we don't have any money to pay them with,” McEwen said.

Last fall, the PSST — a non-profit organization with no assets other than its nationwide license to 10 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum — agreed to borrow $4 million from Cyren Call, with an option to borrow as much as $12 million. The arrangement has been the subject of considerable scrutiny from the FCC and Congress. Thus far, the PSST has spent $5.1 million of the potential $6 million, and the remaining money should fund the PSST's operations through the end of the year, McEwen said. If the D Block spectrum is successfully auctioned, the PSST would need additional funds to prepare for negotiations with the commercial partner or partners, McEwen said.

Two member organizations of the PSST — the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials and the National Emergency Number Association — have been critical of the PSST's operations and its relationship with Cyren Call.

During a panel discussion at the annual APCO conference last month in Kansas City, Mo., APCO PSST representative Craig Jorgensen acknowledged that funding is a challenge for the PSST, particularly if it wants to enhance outreach efforts to potential public-safety subscribers.

“The licensee was given the license and no money to do the work — the commission didn't give them any money and Congress didn't give them any money,” Jorgensen said, noting that the FCC does not have the power to appropriate funds. “They said, ‘Oh, by the way, go do this.’ That's kind of a silly way to do business.”

Jorgensen and Robert Gurss, director of legal and government affairs for APCO, both said media reports that APCO has considered relinquishing its spot on the PSST board to be untrue.

“It's always an option, but I've never been in a meeting where that's been said,” Jorgensen said.

Various Beltway sources indicated that the FCC is expected to release a notice of proposed rulemaking detailing its D Block plans in September. FCC spokesman Rob Kenny said the commission has decided to subject its order to only one cycle of comments — previously, the agency had considered two comment cycles on the matter — to ensure that rules can be approved by the end of the year.