During the last week, mayors for the cities of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose reached an agreement with Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern that the 700 MHz broadband spectrum leased in the region should be controlled by the three cities that were granted an FCC waiver to use the spectrum almost a year ago. Together, the four officials sent a letter to the FCC requesting the change.

Exactly how this situation is handled promises to be of interest throughout the country, particularly in locations where government entities have plans to deploy their own 700 MHz LTE networks. During IWCE last month, I spoke with officials who expressed disappointment that a Bay Area LTE network was not yet operational — everyone is anxious to get testing data and business-model information — but most declined to dwell on the political differences that have arisen in the region.

In short, the message delivered was fairly straightforward: differences between entities in any interoperable system almost certainly will arise, so it is important to get the governance structure established, so the differences can be addressed and progress can be made.

While the politics of a regional LTE effort could be anticipated, whispers about the spectrum situation in the Bay Area were more unsettling. After all, the FCC plan was for waiver recipients to sign a spectrum-lease arrangement with the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) before deploying networks. But, in this case, the PSST signed a lease with an entity that was given no formal authority to represent the three cities; in fact, Ahern signed the deal on behalf of an entity that didn’t actually exist at all.

Now, there has been a lot of finger-pointing in the Bay Area how this happened. Some say the spectrum rights were provided via letters of support from city officials, while others claim that such action would require a vote from the city councils. Still others note that the name of the entity that signed the spectrum was confusingly close to the name of a recognized government entity that supposedly did not have a formal role in the project. While these are things the Bay Area region need to resolve, the rest of the nation really doesn’t care about the details.

What officials around the county do care about is the precedent that is set during this episode. Can a waiver recipient lose its spectrum rights without voting on the matter? Do existing 700 MHz procedures allow another entity in a given region to “hijack” spectrum rights from a waiver recipient? How does a waiver recipient prevent this from happening?

Frankly, this should not be a concern to waiver recipients, which have their hands full in their efforts to secure the governance, funding and technical resources needed to make these proposed first-responder LTE networks a reality. Hopefully, through the resolution of the Bay Area dispute, the FCC and the PSST can establish procedures for 700 MHz broadband spectrum leases that ensure the rights are held by the appropriate entities, so the spectral issues in the Bay Area episode are not repeated as problems in the future.

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