The FCC’s NPRM/NOI issued on Thursday clearly indicates that we are approaching the point where the 2GHz band will be redesignated for terrestrial-only use, with the ATC rules abandoned, and some form of compensation paid (to the government) for the step-up in value accruing to the current 2GHz spectrum holders. It also looks quite possible that any attempts to offer MSS services in those bands could be discontinued, despite the $1.5B spent to date on satellites by DBSD and TerreStar. Ironically, this comes at a time when the only real barriers to ATC deployment are economic and financial, rather than technical.
Even more significantly, the Wall St Journal is reporting that Harbinger is now seeking a $400M debt investment “to keep the [SkyTerra MSS-ATC] project moving forward” and “pay off debt coming due in the months ahead and other expenses related to the wireless plan”. This is a dramatic turnaround from the $1B to $2B of equity and bank financing that Harbinger was reported to be seeking back in April.
SkyTerra has numerous expenses coming due in the months ahead, according to its 2009 10-K, including $120M of vendor notes payable to Boeing, for which the principal is “due in full in December 2010″. Other items listed include the senior secured discount notes (cash pay from October 2010), and various other amounts related to next generation network construction, satellite launch services, and the “chipset, device and satellite base station subsystem” (which totalled an expected $150M during 2010, though could presumably be cut back). According to SkyTerra’s 2009Q4 results presentation in March 2010, the company also estimated it will need to pay $70M for insuring the SkyTerra-1 satellite launch (which is currently scheduled for August 17).
Given these expenses, $400M of new debt wouldn’t provide much money to pay for any large scale terrestrial network deployment. More to the point, will Harbinger be able to continue to fund TerreStar, which has been costing about $10M per month to keep afloat, in addition to SkyTerra (note that SkyTerra’s existing funds were used for the most recent injection of $40M into TerreStar via a “Satellite Minutes Agreement”)? I’m sure we will see the answers to that question very soon, given that Harbinger’s current 90 day exclusivity agreement with TerreStar (signed on May 6) expires on August 4.