PSST considers regional approach to D Block, alters agreement with Cyren Call
Board members for the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) last week voted to have the organization’s leadership pursue regional licensees for its commercial 700 MHz D Block partner and scale back the PSST’s financial relationship with its advisor, Cyren Call Communications.
PSST board members voted to pursue the option of regional D Block licenses, something several wireless carriers have said is necessary, because the economics of a nationwide D Block license do not work for the public-private partnership model envisioned by the FCC.
The PSST remains steadfast in its belief 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 last Thursday unanimously supported consideration of regionalized commercial licenses, PSST Chairman Harlin McEwen said.
“If you take into consideration that there may not be anybody willing to bid on a nationwide D Block [license], then it is reasonable to look at regional licensing,” McEwen said during an interview with Urgent Communications. “I was authorized to begin discussing this at the [FCC].”
While many industry observers have said that regional licensees would make the proposed public-private partnership more feasible financially for 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 lowe-population and rural areas would not receive bids, 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.
In other action, the PSST voted to alter the organization’s arrangement with Cyren Call, the PSST advisory group led by former Nextel Communications co-founder Morgan O’Brien.
“We have scaled back our financial relationship with Cyren, because we don’t have any money to pay them with, basically,” 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.
On Thursday, the PSST voted to reduce the option loan amount to $6 million, of which it already has spent $5.1 million, McEwen said. The remaining money should fund the PSST’s operations through the end of the year, he 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, if the FCC adopts a regional approach—McEwen said.
“We’re exploring various options to do that [secure additional funding],” he said.
In addition, the PSST board voted to allow Cyren Call to pursue other business outside of its service to the PSST, something that was not permitted under the original agreement. Under the new agreement, Cyren Call can seek other clients but cannot sign a contract with a new client unless the PSST determines that doing so does not conflict with the PSST’s mission.
“They have to check with us first,” McEwen said.