PSST seeks stimulus money to make D Block plan viable
An official for the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) today released a letter asking President-elect Barack Obama to consider allocating $15 billion to the proposed public-private partnership to build a nationwide wireless broadband network for public safety in the 700 MHz band.
PSST Chairman Harlin McEwen wrote the letter to Obama’s transition team, noting that one-time financial support of the shared network would meet stated goals of the new administration and Congress, which are proposing a $700 billion economic-stimulus package.
“If we are to be supported, we think it’s a triple win,” McEwen said during an interview with Urgent Communications. “We meet two of the public goals of the administration and the Congress—we meet the job-stimulus issue and we meet the Internet-access issue. And third, they would accomplish the building of the nationwide public-safety network.”
Almost a year ago, the FCC conducted an auction for the 10 MHz D Block—the 10 MHz of spectrum that was to be combined with the PSST’s 10 MHz of adjacent spectrum to provide the spectral foundation of the shared network—but no qualified bids were made. After the auction, commercial entities cited the high costs associated with the requirement to provide coverage to 99.3% of the U.S. population and additional backup power/redundancy wanted by public-safety officials as making the idea unviable economically.
With this in mind, the FCC proposed new rules that would have greatly relaxed the coverage and reliability requirements for the shared networks in an attempt to attract commercial operators to the project. However, the relaxed network requirements did not please many public-safety representatives, and many of the largest cities wrote that their public-safety personnel would never use such a network. The revised proposal apparently will not be voted on by the current FCC.
McEwen acknowledged that there are “many people who have said they want access to that stimulus money” but said the requested one-time infusion from the federal government could make the goals of the public-private partnership economically viable while maintaining public safety’s standards.
“That $15 billion … would be needed to supplement the private partners’ funds, so they could actually build out the public-safety requirements to the stringent suggestions that we had in the beginning,” McEwen said. “In other words, we would go back to the 99.3% population [coverage] goal, along with extra hardening, security, redundancy and all of those things—the things that we wanted that would take the burden off the D Block winner.”
Although the PSST is having its own well-chronicled financial troubles—the organization has no way to generate revenue and has been criticized for accepting several millions of dollars in loans from its adviser, Cyren Call Communications—McEwen emphasized that the PSST was not seeking the stimulus money for itself.
“We wouldn’t get the money; it wouldn’t come to us,” he said. “It would go into some kind of a trust fund to offset the costs of the private partner in building out the network to public-safety requirements.”
Cyren Call Chairman Morgan O’Brien expressed his support of including the shared broadband wireless network for public safety as part of the proposed stimulus package.
“For years, the lack of public funding has stymied the development of such a network,” O’Brien said in a prepared statement released today. “Now, Congress and the incoming Obama administration may have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to assist private partners willing to construct and operate this vital public resource.
“This type of ‘public good’ stimulus will do much to create and preserve jobs in our struggling economy, while at the same time putting in place the 21st century infrastructure required both to support public safety personnel nationwide and to stimulate economic growth, particularly in our country’s more rural areas.”