APCO, NENA seek changes in PSST
Two of the highest-profile public-safety-communications organizations have asked the FCC to change the governance of the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST)—the public-safety broadband licensee (PSBL) for the 10 MHz of nationwide public-safety broadband spectrum in the 700 MHz band—or rescind the PSST’s license.
The request was made in filings submitted to the FCC by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) prior to last Friday’s deadline for comments on the future of the D-block and a public-private partnership proposal designed to deliver broadband services to public safety.
During NENA’s annual conference in Tampa earlier this month, representatives of NENA and APCO repeatedly expressed concern about a lack of “transparency” in PSST deliberations during a session regarding policy issues. APCO reiterated this sentiment in its FCC filing.
“There must be positive change in the form of the PSBL, and requirements that it operate in a transparent environment that supports consensus building and is guided by a more diverse representation.,” the filing states. “The commission should proceed in whatever approach achieves these crucial changes in the most effective manner, whether that means mandating changes to the existing PSBL or rescinding and reissuing the PSBL license.”
In its filing, NENA basically said it agreed with everything in APCO’s filing regarding the PSST’s governance.
As mandated by the FCC, both APCO and NENA have representatives on the PSST board. In fact, APCO helped found the PSST a year ago, and Robert Gurss—APCO’s director of legal and government affairs—served as the PSST’s initial vice chairman before APCO appointed Craig Jorgenson to replace Gurss as the APCO representative on the PSST.
While Jorgenson became a member of the PSST board, he did not replace Gurss as vice chairman. Instead, the PSST board—reconstituted by the FCC last fall to include representatives from several new organizations, including NENA—elected Kevin McGinnis, the PSST representative for the National Association of State EMS Officials (NASEMSO), as its vice chairman. That election resulted in Harlin McEwen and Alan Caldwell maintaining their initial titles as PSST chairman and secretary/treasurer, respectively.
APCO also noted in its filing that the PSST’s 15-member board is so large that there is an “over-reliance” on the three officers to make decisions instead of seeking input from the entire board.
Despite the large size of the PSST board, APCO contends that the board lacks expertise in several key fields, the most notable being “direct experience in designing or operating public-safety communications systems.” Other fields where APCO believes the PSST board is lacking are business, finance and communications technology.
“Such gaps in the board’s experience lead the PSST to rely even more heavily on the advice of its agent/advisor and limits its ability to engage in a thorough critique of that advice,” APCO states in its filing.
The PSST’s advisor/agent is Cyren Call Communications, which first proposed the notion of a public-private partnership providing public safety with a broadband wireless network more than two years ago. Cyren Call also has secured financing for the PSST, a role that has been the subject of considerable scrutiny by the industry, FCC and Congress during the past several months, although an Inspector General’s report on the subject said there was no wrongdoing.
In its filing, APCO recommended that the FCC require the PSST to reduce the size of its board to 8-12 members to “allow for a more inclusive decision-making process,” with about half of the board being members of organizations that represent potential users of the proposed broadband network.
APCO also expressed concern that the PSST is too similar to the governing board of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC), which has entered into several arrangements with the PSST.
“While these NPSTC-related arrangements may provide quality advice and service to PSST, they do not promote diversity of viewpoints or enhance PSST’s scope of knowledge,” the APCO filing states. “They might even pose potential conflicts of interest.”
NPSTC Chairman Ralph Haller said that NPSTC is “an organization of organizations,” so the fact that NPSTC—not represented on the PSST board—is helping the PSST should not be a problem.
“The goals of the PSST and NPSTC are not different, so why shouldn’t there be cooperation?” he said.
Haller said he does not believe the APCO and NENA positions represent the kind of division within the public-safety community that could jeopardize the viability of a public-private partnership.
“I think there’s so much more agreement than disagreement that the little tweaks suggested here shouldn’t be blown out of proportion,” Haller said.
McEwen echoed this sentiment but acknowledged that there is “some danger” if public safety does not provide a united front on this issue.
As for concerns about a lack of openness regarding PSST deliberations, McEwen noted that much of the PSST’s work to date has been in preparation for negotiations with a potential D Block winner, which the PSST wants to keep private for regulatory and strategic reasons. In addition, an FCC gag order from early December to April also greatly limited the amount of disclosure the PSST could make during that time.
McEwen said he believes the PSST would be much more open after negotiations with the D Block winner are completed.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I believe in an open and transparent process, but we have been in some ways hampered by the fact that we’ve been developing strategies for negotiations.”
In addition, the PSST’s uncertain financial position is not helping matters, McEwen said.
“[PSST board members] are not meeting face-to-face right now, because we don’t have funds to pay for people to travel to meetings,” he said.
Attempts by MRT to contact APCO President Willis Carter for comment on this article were unsuccessful.