Representatives for the cities of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose will have to submit a new application to secure the 700 MHz broadband spectrum for the first-responder LTE network planned for the San Francisco Bay Area region, a San Jose official said last week.

During a San Jose committee meeting, San Jose City Manager Deanna Santana said the FCC has determined that Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern should not have signed the controversial 700 MHz spectrum lease with the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) for the San Francisco Bay Area.

“The FCC has determined just this week that the lease that was issued was not valid, because there was no authority on behalf of Sheriff Ahern to sign,” Santana said during the committee meeting, which was webcast. “They have asked us to submit a new application for the rights to the spectrum to obtain a new lease.”

In May 2010, the FCC granted the cities of San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland a waiver to use 700 MHz public-safety broadband spectrum licensed to the PSST to support the deployment of an first-responder LTE network in the region, which was supposed to enable the cities to lease the airwaves from the PSST.

In August, Ahern signed a spectrum lease with the PSST on behalf of the “San Francisco Bay Area Urban Area” — something Ahern has acknowledged as being geographic area, not an official entity — without a vote by any of the three cities that were named in the FCC waiver. But last month, Ahern expressed support for the three waiver cities to hold the spectrum-lease rights to the 700 MHz spectrum, which the mayors of the cities are seeking.

While the concept of transferring the spectrum lease to the three cities has been expected, PSST Chairman Harlin McEwen said the FCC has not informed him yet that the original lease is invalid.

“I talked to [FCC officials] last week twice,” McEwen said in an interview. “They told me they haven’t made any decisions and that I will certainly be informed before they make it public.”
Urgent Communications made multiple calls to the FCC during the past week, seeking confirmation about the status of the 700 MHz broadband spectrum in the San Francisco Bay Area. Yesterday, an FCC official said the agency has decided not to comment on the matter at this time.

Last August, Motorola was awarded a $50.6 million federal stimulus grant to fund the buildout of BayWEB, a 700 MHz LTE network to be used by first responders in the San Francisco Bay region. A pilot network has been deployed, but no contract has been signed for the larger 193-site project, because no authorized governance entity exists to negotiate a deal.

To this end, cities and counties in the San Francisco Bay Area have established language to create a joint powers authority (JPA) that would govern BayWEB. Thus far, a handful of entities — among them, the counties of San Francisco, Alameda and Santa Clara — have approved the JPA, and others are expected to vote on the matter during the next few weeks.

After the JPA is established, it would be authorized to negotiate a contract with Motorola to deploy the BayWEB 700 MHz network or pursue other options. Under the terms of the federal stimulus grant, Motorola is required to finish two-thirds of the project by August 2012.

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