San Francisco Bay Area officials are working on agreements designed to address concerns about the spectrum-lease and governance arrangements surrounding the region’s controversial BayWEB plans to build a 700 MHz LTE network for first-responder agencies in the area.

“I’m more optimistic now than I was in the past,” said Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern, who currently is the executive sponsor of the BayWEB project. “We had a lot of obstacles to get by … [and it’s taken a large effort from a number of people to keep this moving in a positive direction.

“We’ve still got a long way to go. We’ve got a bunch of work ahead of us.”

One of the first items being sought is a resolution to questions regarding the use of the 700 MHz broadband spectrum. Last year, the FCC granted a 700 MHz waiver to use the spectrum to the cities of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose. However, the spectrum lease with the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) was signed by Ahern on behalf of the “San Francisco Bay Area Urban Area” — a non-existent entity — and was not voted on by any of the cities that were granted the FCC waiver.

“When they named me executive sponsor, I was under the impression that everybody was on the same page in regard to the lease being in my name,” Ahern said. “It wasn’t until months later that I find out that the core cities didn’t want to have the lease specifically in my name.”

With this in mind, Ahern and officials for the three cities have been communicating with the FCC to establish a new arrangement that shows “we’re now in working better in a spirit of cooperation and partnership.” In a related matter, the Bay Area Urban Area Security Initiative (Bay Area UASI) — an entity in which all three waiver cities are members — has voted to become co-executive sponsors of BayWEB with Ahern.

“[UASI members] will have more of an active role,” Ahern said. “Because of the concerns that people had, we’re in agreement to have our local UASI take more of an active role.”

To date, the Bay Area UASI Approval Authority — the governing body for the UASI — has not voted on matters associated with BayWEB. UASI staff has said the Approval Authority does not need to vote on BayWEB, because it is being funded by money by private partner Motorola, not with UASI money.

However, critics of the arrangement have noted that the concept of a public-safety 700 MHz LTE network in the region was initiated by the Approval Authority and that UASI staff members have devoted significant time and resources to BayWEB, so the Approval Authority should be a participant.

Disagreements on policies such as this have been a source of considerable debate during the past eight months among Bay Area UASI member entities and the staff, which is led by Executive Director Laura Phillips. Phillips recently announced via e-mail that she will be retiring, effective the end of next week.

Motorola — the recipient of the $50.6 million federal stimulus grant that will pay for most of the BayWEB deployment — previously expressed support for the Approval Authority becoming an executive sponsor of the BayWEB project, “if it helps to expedite the establishment of the BayRICS Authority, which is the legal entity that Motorola requires for partnership on the BayWEB BTOP project,” according to Motorola spokesman Matt Messinger.

Meanwhile, officials throughout the Bay Area region are working to establish a joint powers authority (JPA) that ultimately will serve as the governing body for the BayWEB project. Ahern and Messinger have said the JPA would be the entity that would sign a contract with Motorola for BayWEB.

Ahern said he believes the terminology for a “final draft” of the proposed JPA is near completion, but each of the participating government entities would have to approve it. While Ahern he would like to form the JPA “within the month,” Michelle McGurk — spokesperson for San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed — said it would be “challenging” to complete the task by the end of May, simply because of the notification time period that the government entities are required to provide the public before voting on such matters.

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