Whether the San Francisco Bay Area entity that signed a lease with the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) has the legal authorization to enter into such an agreement is the latest in a series of questions surrounding the proposed Bay WEB 700 MHz wireless broadband network for first responders in the region.

In August, Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern — representing the “San Francisco Bay Area Urban Area Region” — signed a spectrum lease agreement with the PSST. The 10 MHz was needed to provide the spectral foundation for a broadband LTE network in the region. Current plans call for Motorola to build a 193-site LTE network costing more than $70 million using a $50.6 million federal broadband stimulus grant as the primary funding source that has been the subject of considerable scrutiny during the past month.

Most of those inquiries have focused on the process used to select Motorola as a partner in a cooperative agreement, but San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed yesterday sent a letter to Ahern that asks whether Ahern had the authority to sign the lease agreement with the PSST and pursue an experimental license for Project Cornerstone, a 10-site pilot deployment for BayWEB, the larger LTE project.

“I hereby request you to provide me with any and all records that pertain to your authority to sign the documents, as well as the legal status of the entities on whose behalf you signed,” Reed’s letter states.

During an interview, Reed said he and his staff have been unable to find any indication that the “San Francisco Bay Area Urban Area Region” — the entity that Ahern represented in the spectrum-lease agreement — exists.

There is a Bay Area Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) organization, which has an approval authority that allocated $6 million for a pilot LTE network for the area. But UASI staff members repeatedly have indicated that the deal with Motorola is not a UASI project and did not require a vote from the approval authority.

Even if the “San Francisco Bay Area Urban Area Region” exists, Reed said the city of San Jose has not transferred its FCC waiver rights to use the 700 MHz spectrum to another jurisdiction.

“Whatever it [the “San Francisco Bay Area Urban Area Region”] is, we don’t yet know,” Reed said. “I do know what the Bay Area UASI Approval Authority is, because we’re a member of that. I don’t know what these entities are.

“It’s kind of amazing. I don’t know how someone could usurp our rights to the 700 MHz spectrum without our permission or talking to us.”

PSST Chairman Harlin McEwen, who signed the spectrum-lease agreement with Ahern on Aug. 6, said he believed he signed the deal with the Bay Area UASI.

“It’s a regional waiver, and they have a regional lease with the Bay Area UASI,” McEwen said during an interview.

On Sept. 3, the FCC approved the Bay Area lease and 19 other spectrum-lease agreements with the PSST that provided public-safety jurisdictions with the right to use the 700 MHz public-safety broadband spectrum. All of the agreements were subject to a 30-comment period, but no comments or complaints were filed regarding any of the agreements, FCC spokesman Rob Kenny said.

“We take allegations of this nature seriously. We would review any complaints or new information that we would receive, but we’ve received no complaints of this nature to date from any authority.”

Kenny said the party signing a spectrum lease must be a legal representative of an entity that received a FCC waiver to use the 700 MHz spectrum licensed to the PSST.

In addition, Ahern applied for on behalf of the “San Francisco Bay Area Urban Area” for the 10-site pilot LTE network known as project cornerstone. Kenny said an FCC waiver is not required for an experimental license.

Reed said that Ahern confirmed receipt of his letter and that the Alameda County counsel’s office would provide an appropriate response.

In an interview with Urgent Communications, Ahern said it is his understanding that the “San Francisco Bay Area Urban Area Region” and the “San Francisco Bay Area Urban Area” refer to the same 10-county geographic region, but they are not the Bay Area UASI organization.

“I don’t think know if [the San Francisco Bay Area] is a group,” Ahern said. “I think it’s more of an area.”

When asked if the “San Francisco Bay Area Urban Area Region” had the authority to sign the spectrum lease agreement instead of the entities receiving the FCC waiver to use the airwaves, Ahern said the city of San Jose has participated in planning sessions for some time without expressing concerns.

“I know that Mayor Reed’s trying to say, ‘What authority does Sheriff Ahern have to work off of our waiver?’ My signing of the document was simply to be a point of contact for Motorola and the region, so that we could work together. That’s why I signed the documents.

“The people in the technology world who meet all the time about this stuff were aware about the waiver and what we need. They are the ones picking the sites and trying to identify the priority of which sites should be hooked up first. They are the ones that gave direction to the 10 Bay Area counties, and Mayor Reed had employees designate sites that they should first be connected. So, if he says that San Jose was not aware of what was going on, then that’s not my fault.”

Michelle McGurk, a spokesman for Reed, said San Jose staff has been trying to “trying to raise questions, when questions are allowed. But there is a level of detail that’s only coming out now. And I think, when some information is being hidden, you really don’t know until you delve into it.”

Last week, Reed sent a letter questioning Ahern’s authority to sign a March 15 cooperative agreement with Motorola to build a 193-site LTE network in the region. In that agreement, Ahern signed the document on behalf of the Bay RICS Policy Group, which Reed contends did not exist at the time.

Ahern said Laura Phillips — the general manager for the Bay Area UASI — approached him early this year to serve as executive sponsor for the Bay RICS Policy Group. Ahern said he is not a member of the Bay RICS Policy Group, but it was his understanding that the Bay RICS Policy Group was created in late 2009.

But Heather Tannehill-Plamondon, who works for Phillips as the Bay Area UASI’s director of contract administration and project management, has said said she could not recall when the Bay RICS Policy Group first met but acknowledged that its members “did not go into a meeting to discuss that cooperative agreement” with Motorola when it was signed on March 15.

*Updated 10/22/2010, 3:30 CST