FCC moves Nextel spectrum

The controversial deal shifts Nextel out of the 800 MHz spectrum, which is used by public safety communications systems.

Federal Communications Commission

The Federal Communications Commission unanimously approved a controversial deal today that would move Nextel Communications out of the 800 MHz radio spectrum so it won't interfere with public safety communications systems, which broadcast on that frequency.

Nextel, the nation's sixth largest wireless phone company, would relocate to the 1.9 GHz frequency range. Verizon Wireless and several other carriers opposed the move, while public safety groups, which have long battled for more airwaves and less interference from commercial entities, supported it.

"It's pretty favorable," said Harlin McEwen, who is chairman of the International Association of Chiefs of Police's Communications and Technology Committee, referring to the FCC vote.

But McEwen, a former city police chief and a retired FBI deputy assistant director, said his group is unsure whether the deal will become reality. The FCC has to actually issue the order and then Nextel has to agree to the financial costs involved, which has public safety groups worried, he said.

"The big issue is [the FCC] valued the total 1.9 GHz spectrum at $4.8 billion, and what that means is that Nextel has to pay that amount, either in money or in paying our costs or in spectrum they're giving up," McEwen said. "So it's a combination of things. It's very complicated, and we couldn't see any of that [order] today."

Media reports indicated that Nextel would have to establish a $2.5 billion letter of credit to cover any costs public safety groups will incur from reorganizing in the 800 MHz band.

Officials at Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon Communications and Vodafone, called the FCC decision bizarre.

"Instead of seeking a lawful appropriation from Congress to finance the work of untangling public safety's frequencies from Nextel's interference, the FCC has pushed ahead, while serious legal questions raised by senior congressional leaders remain unanswered," reads a statement from Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest wireless carrier. "Has the FCC financed this project illegally by bypassing both the Congress and the auction process? Is the award of billions of dollars' worth of prime spectrum to a private commercial service provider prohibited by federal law?"

The Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, an industry membership group representing wireless carriers, manufacturers, and Internet product and service providers, also called the FCC decision disappointing. It had filed an alternative plan two months ago that called for Nextel to pay more.

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