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FCC pulls 800 MHz from April 15 agenda: Verizon offers $5B for 1.9 GHz spectrum

WASHINGTON-The Federal Communications Commission got doubly spooked Thursday and decided not to vote on its plan to solve public-safety interference in the 800 MHz band at its meeting April 15.

Thursday started badly for FCC staff with a Washington Post article that said the deal was done, and the winner was Nextel Communications Inc.

“Approval of the plan could deliver a major blow to Nextel’s rival cellular carriers, who have spent a great deal of time lobbying the FCC to auction off the spectrum Nextel wants, arguing that not doing so would give away billions of dollars worth of public resources. Nextel has argued that its existing proposal is sufficient payment for the new airwaves, which are considered particularly efficient for carrying cellular and high-speed Internet traffic,” said the Washington Post.

Although news leaks in Washington are common practice, no one is happy when it happens this close to a scheduled meeting. The story gave those opposed to the Consensus Plan another opportunity to convince the FCC to take more time before making a decision.

What happened next put the nail in the April 15 coffin. As the end-of-the-week-closing bell was ringing on Wall Street (the markets are closed today for Good Friday), Verizon Wireless, which had been urging an auction of spectrum in the 1.9 GHz band, said its opening bid would be $5 billion if an auction was held.

“Verizon Wireless remains ready to participate in an immediate auction of a nationwide license for the 10 megahertz (specifically the 1910-1915/1990-1995 MHz). We are prepared to submit an initial, opening round bid of $5 billion. Our willingness to bid depends on the FCC’s designation of the bands for a nationwide broadband PCS license and the adoption of the PCS rules for the spectrum,” said Molly Feldman, Verizon Wireless vice president of business development.

The FCC will continue debating the proposal as even more ideas are floated. An example of this was Andrew Seybold’s 4Mobility column Thursday, which suggested that if Nextel was awarded the spectrum at 1.9 GHz, it should be required to turn off any system that is causing public-safety interference.

“It is clear that the plan before the FCC is not the best for all concerned, nor is it really a ‘consensus plan’ as it is being billed. It is a plan that will cause many problems for years to come. Meanwhile, Nextel will happily begin using its new 10 megahertz of spectrum to provide services, and it won’t have any motivation to work quickly to resolve the problems it created by deviating from the rules (with the buy-in of the FCC). If Nextel is ‘given’ this spectrum, which appears probable, it should be required to build out its 1.9 GHz system and turn off the offending 800 MHz band system in every area where it is causing interference,” wrote industry analyst Seybold.

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