Officials for San Francisco Bay Area cities and counties are working like mad to finalize an agreement with Motorola Solutions for the deployment of a 700 MHz LTE network for the region’s public-safety agencies. The network has been a source of controversy among various jurisdictions $50.6 million federal broadband grant to help fund the project.

Now time is ticking away. Motorola last year was awarded the $50.6 million grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) that was created as part of the massive federal stimulus package enacted in 2009, and the company agreed to pay $21 million in matching funds. In addition, Motorola recently agreed to fund $23 million needed to remediate sites on the network. But this $95 million funding opportunity will be jeopardized if the Bay Area Regional Interoperability Communications System (BayRICS) joint powers authority (JPA) and Motorola can’t finalize a contract soon.

Under the terms of the federal grant, two-thirds of the Motorola LTE project in the Bay Area must be completed by Aug. 1, which is less than eight months away. Motorola says it needs to order equipment for the project soon to meet those deadlines, and work is being done now in hopes of ensuring that the project goes live.

It is a monstrous task, and one made especially problematic in a part of the country that is crowded and averse to siting facilities. It appears the jurisdictions in the JPA have access to the sites but allowing a private company like Motorola to use those sites may be problematic. JPA members are trying to get participating member jurisdictions to take the necessary steps to provide Motorola with access to the sites — in other words cut through various levels of legal and government bureaucracy in a matter of weeks. The JPA hopes to vote on a final agreement with Motorola as early as mid-January.

Securing enough fiber backhaul to support these high-speed networks at a cost-effective price can also become problematic. Interestingly, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) authority is mentioned most often as a way to gain access to a fiber network that will meet the backhaul capacity needs for the proposed LTE network. Almost 20 years ago, BART conceived a program to develop a right-of-way business for the dark fiber that it uses to power its proprietary radio system and it also marketed the fiber to commercial entities such as cable and telecom operators. In fact, that business has been a nice revenue generator for BART.

It’s going to be an uphill battle for the project — one that will take an unprecedented amount of cooperation among government officials. It could become either a model of cooperation or an example of failure.

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