Officials for San Francisco Bay Area cities and counties plan to work feverishly over the next six weeks to finalize an agreement with Motorola Solutions for the deployment of a 700 MHz LTE network for the region’s first-responder agencies.

During last week’s meeting of the Bay Area Regional Interoperability Communications System (BayRICS) joint powers authority (JPA), a negotiated proposed agreement with Motorola — recipient of the $50.6 million federal broadband grant that would help fund the project — that is being reviewed by the participating jurisdictions.

While the outline of a deal has been negotiated, several key pieces have not been finalized. With Motorola officials saying they need to order equipment for the project soon to meet federal grant buildout requirements, work is being done on several fronts—from spectrum authorization to backhaul to site access — to ensure that the much-anticipated project becomes a reality.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but I think we’re going to get it done,” said Barry Fraser, interoperability project manager for the city and county of San Francisco. “And, when we do, I think people are going to be very pleasantly surprised at the system we have in place here. I have a lot of confidence that it’s going to work better than people expect.”

Exactly who holds the leased rights to the 700 MHz broadband spectrum in the San Francisco Bay Area was the source of considerable controversy last year and still has not been officially resolved, but the general consensus is that the JPA should hold the lease and the FCC is willing to approve such a lease.

In terms of backhaul, JPA members are hopeful that they can reach a deal with a local entity — the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) authority is mentioned most often — to gain access to a fiber network that will meet the backhaul capacity needs for the proposed LTE network.

But probably the biggest issue is the fact that JPA jurisdictions have not executed agreements that will allow Motorola to access network sites for the public-safety network and — in some cases — a public-access network, Fraser said.

“Motorola obviously doesn’t want to take the risk of ordering equipment if they don’t have the sites locked down to install the equipment on,” he said.

With this in mind, JPA members are trying to get participating member jurisdictions to take the necessary steps to provide Motorola with access to the sites. The JPA hopes to vote on a final agreement with Motorola as early as mid-January.

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 JPA members and Motorola Solutions are not able to 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.

Related stories