Nextel to receive new broadcast spectrum

Under the plan, the FCC will give Nextel new broadcast spectrum in return for the company vacating other spectrum

Nextel Communications agreed last week to a complex plan by the FCC designed to end interference from Nextel cell phones that now disrupt public safety communication systems in hundreds of U.S. communities.

Included in the plan is a provision that Nextel will distribute about $500 million among call letter television stations in order to move “backhaul” electronic newsgathering operations from spectrum that Nextel will use for telephony services.

Under the plan, the FCC will give Nextel new broadcast spectrum in return for the company vacating other spectrum and paying to reconfigure the airwaves it currently occupies. The agreement, valued at $4.8 billion, is the end of a year long process aimed at eliminating cell phone interference that in some cases leaves police, fire and other emergency personnel unable to communicate.

The transition would begin immediately and should be completed in three years. The company’s planned merger with Sprint won’t affect the agreement. Nextel said its customers won’t notice any changes or service disruptions.

Under the agreement, the FCC will require Nextel to give up rights to certain of its licenses in the 800MHz band and all of its licenses in the 700MHz band. In exchange, the commission will modify Nextel’s licenses to provide the right to operate on two 5MHz blocks in a different part of the spectrum — specifically 1910-1915MHz and 1990-1995MHz — conditioned on Nextel fulfilling certain obligations.

As for broadcasters, who as a group supported the FCC’s deal with Nextel, the plan calls for moving broadcast newsgathering operations from the 1.9GHz band to 2025-2110MHz band. In return, Nextel will provide relocation compensation for stations. The reimbursement cost will be negotiated with Nextel on a station-by-station basis and will cover the total cost of either new equipment purchases or the upgrading of existing systems.

The deal was a significant victory for Nextel, who had hired a lobbying team to counter a campaign by rival Verizon Wireless to derail the plan. Verizon Wireless called the exchange an illegal giveaway, although it later settled with Nextel and agreed not to challenge the company’s deal in court.

The five-member FCC unanimously approved the plan last summer.

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