San Francisco Bay Area tries to reach LTE deal as deadlines approach
Cities and counties in the San Francisco Bay Area are expected to spend the next several weeks gathering information and making key decisions regarding the public-safety LTE network that Motorola Solutions wants to build for the region with $50.6 million in federal grant money that could be pulled if progress is not made quickly.
“We have very little time in order to take advantage of this grant,” San Francisco representative Barry Frazier told members of the Bay Area Regional Interoperability Communications System (BayRICS) joint powers authority (JPA) during an open meeting last week. “Time is running out, and we will lose this grant, if we do not act very quickly.”
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, according to Michelle McGurk, who represents the city of San Jose.
But this $95 million funding opportunity will be jeopardized if the JPA members and Motorola Solutions are not able to agree on the details of a contract during the next months. 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 nine months away.
Thus far, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) has not provided any indication that it is willing to extend the Aug. 1 “substantial completion” deadline for any projects. In fact, NTIA recently pulled a BTOP grant from the state of Louisiana on a public-access project that had not shown enough progress, said Lance Johnson, NTIA’s program officer for BTOP.
“We take fraud, waste and abuse very seriously,” Johnson said during the JPA meeting. “We want to make sure that the funds are well spent, that these projects go forward with great support from their communities and lead to great things in the future.”
But considerable work has to be completed by the JPA membership during the next several weeks to enable the project to move forward. By the end of next week, JPA members are supposed to provide Motorola with a list of available base-station sites and their status. Each JPA entity also wants financial-impact information and a copy of the negotiated draft contract with Motorola at that time, so they can take the information back to their city councils and county boards of supervisors for approval.
In addition, a system design and backhaul agreements need to be finalized, and rights to the 700 MHz broadband spectrum have to be confirmed. The FCC originally granted the 700 MHz broadband waiver to the cities of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, but the FCC approved a public-safety broadband spectrum lease for a non-existent entity that was the subject of considerable controversy. Now, the original waiver cities want the JPA to hold the spectrum rights and to have the spectrum rights geographically reflect the membership of the JPA, which was established in the summer.
JPA members are targeting a meeting in mid-January to officially vote whether to sign an agreement with Motorola Solutions for the LTE network, McGurk said. However, officials for the vendor say they need to order equipment for the project in December, so the gear can be installed in time to meet the NTIA’s “substantial progress” deadline of Aug. 1.
“[Motorola officials] are saying they need to order their parts in December,” McGurk said. “They will be making a decision potentially to order equipment without a contract being signed.”