One of the most impressive aspects of the 700 MHz broadband saga during the past 16 months has been the speed with which public-safety entities have reached consensus and — with a few exceptions — presented a united front on the matter, which has made it easier for federal regulators and lawmakers to consider taking action.

Perhaps the most notable example of this has been in the San Francisco Bay Area, which set aside $6 million in UASI grants earmarked for the cities of San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland to pay for Project Cornerstone, a 10-site LTE network using the 700 MHz broadband spectrum licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST).

Laura Phillips, executive director of the Bay Area UASI program, said at the APCO conference last month that Project Cornerstone would be deployed in time to be used in the regional Urban Shield exercise scheduled for mid-October. A couple of weeks later, Motorola won $50.6 million in federal stimulus broadband grants to expand the LTE system.

Officials from other jurisdictions that applied for 700 MHz broadband waivers marveled at the aggressive timeline, because most of them are still waiting to hear about their broadband stimulus applications and have not even started an RFP process. To see the Bay Area apparently have the funding, governance and vendor issues decided so early in the game was the source of considerable admiration — and, perhaps, a hint of jealousy — from other jurisdictions.

But today, the picture in the Bay Area looks considerably different. Key jurisdictions like the city of San Jose, the city of Oakland and the county of Santa Clara recently have sent a flurry of letters to high-profile federal officials expressing concern about the procurement process.

As members of the UASI Approval Authority, each of these entities signed off on Project Cornerstone, which would funded with $2 million of UASI money allocated to the cities of San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland. However, the San Jose money was reallocated outside of the city without the consent of the Approval Authority, according to multiple sources. In addition, the Approval Authority did not review or vote on the Motorola stimulus-funding proposal, said Emily Harrison, Santa Clara County’s deputy county executive.

Citing these claims, the city of San Jose and the county of Santa Clara have requested something very unusual in a tight economy, asking the federal government to halt the broadband stimulus funding until the procurement issues can be resolved.

Harrison said “there’s a lot of trust that’s been lost” between the UASI Approval Authority and the UASI management team, which entered into the sole-source arrangement with Motorola. While stating that “the process is broke,” she said the UASI jurisdictions realize the importance of the interoperable broadband network initiative.

“I hope it all turns out, because these things need to happen,” Harrison said. “We can’t let people and processes get in the way. We need to take care of our public-safety employees.”

Although a big press event about Project Cornerstone involving the FCC slated for last Friday — the eve of the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks — was nixed, current plans still call for pilot network (and the press event) to be deployed in time for the Urban Shield exercise next month. However, many industry observers are expressing doubts whether this timeline can be met in the current political environment in the region.

Exactly how the public-safety broadband saga in the Bay Area will play out is anybody’s guess. Clearly, a working broadband pilot for first responders would be beneficial, as the information learned promises to be valuable to other jurisdictions that are planning deployments. Meanwhile, the recent episodes serve as a stark reminder that clear governance structure and processes are vital components to any successful interoperability initiative.

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