Government entities in the San Francisco Bay Area are facing difficult planning decisions in light of a federal decision to halt the buildout of 700 MHz LTE networks for public safety, according to an FCC filing from the Bay Area Regional Interoperable Communications Systems (BayRICS) Authority.

Several months ago, Bay Area cities and counties were working quickly with Motorola Solutions — recipient of the $50.6 million grant to build an LTE network in the region — to complete the broadband communications project by the August 2013 deadline.

But that work was halted shortly after Congress approved $7 billion to fund the deployment of a nationwide 700 MHz network. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) stopped all early LTE buildouts, citing concerns that the early deployments could hamper the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) board's plans for a nationwide network.

"We're just waiting to see what the NTIA and the FCC are going to do. With this filing that we submitted recently … we just wanted to make it very clear to the FCC that BayRICS and the Bay Area jurisdictions have invested a lot of time and resources in the project," Barry Fraser, interim general manager for the BayRICS Authority, said during an interview with Urgent Communications. "We hope that, whatever decision the commission makes, they take those investments into consideration."

Indeed, the investments have been considerable. Motorola has spent more than $3 million in grant money, and the BayRICS Authority has committed more than $1 million in member fees and grant funding to the project, according to the filing. In addition, BayRICS jurisdictions have contributed "significant in-kind resources," including office space, utilities, administrative support, and almost 5,000 hours of staff time.

Giving the budgetary strain that California government entities are enduring, such commitments are not made lightly, Fraser said.

"There's that kind of pressure on all the jurisdictions here--this is a time of real tight budgets for all cities and counties," he said. "That's why we're hoping that we get some clarification and direction sooner, rather than later."

The BayRICS Authority submitted the filing to the FCC because the planned LTE project cannot proceed without the commission's assurance that the public-safety network is an approved use of the 700 MHz spectrum. Under the new law, these airwaves will be licensed to FirstNet, instead of to the current licensee — the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST).

"I'm not criticizing — I think the FCC and NTIA are moving as quickly as possible," Fraser said. "But these things take time, and it's just unfortunate that we're kind of in the middle of this project, and now we're being told to hold off and wait for further directions.

"It could be several months before we know a lot. It makes it tough for cities and counties to plan for this type of thing. … It's not the best situation to be in, by any means."

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