PSST chairman cites financial issues
The Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST)—the nationwide licensee to the 10 MHz swath of public-safety broadband spectrum in the 700 MHz band—is facing a potential financial dilemma later this year, unless the organization is able to identify a new source of revenue, PSST Chairman Harlin McEwen said.
“We’re operating on air,” McEwen said during an interview with Urgent Communications. “We’ve got a little bit of money left, which is what I’m operating out of. We don’t have enough money to pay for our board members to come to meetings; they have to pay their own way, or they can participate in calls on the phone.”
Not paying travel expenses for board member to attend meetings has helped the PSST conserve its existing funds—available through a loan from advisor Cyren Call Communications, which has generated considerable controversy—but McEwen said that “it’s not the right way to do business.”
For the moment, most of the PSST’s operating expenses are costs associated with maintaining a web site, paying for office space and paying travel expenses associated with McEwen’s trips to Washington, D.C., to meet with the federal lawmakers and regulators that will determine the fate of the PSST.
McEwen, who said he is not paid for his role on the PSST, declined to specify how much money the PSST has at the moment.
“We’ve got some money—a little bit,” he said. “We can last for a few months.”
However, if the FCC or Congress mandated that the PSST take on a significant project—for example, overseeing relocation of 700 MHz narrowband users—the organization would run out of money quickly, McEwen said. At the moment, McEwen said he does not believe federal officials are looking for the PSST to do such work.
Under a model developed by the FCC in 2007, the PSST was supposed to be funded primarily by the winner of the 700 MHz D Block auction—a commercial entity that would work with the PSST in a public-private partnership to develop a nationwide broadband wireless network for first-responder agencies.
But that auction failed to attract a qualified bidder, leaving the PSST with no assets other than a spectrum license. To date, Cyren Call has loaned the PSST a total of $6 million, and the company has told the FCC it is willing to provide additional financing in the future. However, Cyren Call said it would not be able to provide any additional financing unless the federal government assured that the PSST would be structured in a manner that would allow it to repay the initial loans.
Last year, several members of Congress questioned the PSST-Cyren Call financial arrangement, with some expressing the belief that the loan could compromise the PSST’s ability to act as an independent representative of public safety.