Lautenberg Questions Nextel Deal

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) has asked the comptroller general to give a thumbs up or down to the the proposal by wireless company Nextel Communications to pay to move broadcasters and others in the 800-megahertz band, including emergency communications, in exchange for a swath of spectrum now used by broadcasters for satellite newsgathering.

The FCC is planning to sign off on some version of the deal in the next week or so.

Nextel competitor Verizon, whose wireless operations are based in Bedminster, N.J., calls the plan illegal. In a letter to FCC Chairman Michael Powell Tuesday, the company warned him to expect legislators from both Houses of Congress to register their concerns, so look for a Rep. or two to file similar requests.

It will cost Nextel about $1.4 billion to move the current sepcturm occupants, while the spectrum it wants in exchange is worth more than $5 billion, says Verizon, which wants to bid on the same spectrum in an open auction.

Powell has said the deal will not be a windfall for Nextel, but he does expect it to help speed the digital transition and help clear up interference to emergency communications.
Echoing Verizon's complaint, Lautenberg says the deal may violate the prohibition--Verizon says it does--against "diverting money from the federal Treasury without appropriation or authorization."

The FCC is not responding to the Verizon letter. "Our response will be the order," said a wireless bureau staffer Tuesday. But a source says the deal, whose details the FCC is not discussing, has already been run by the Comptroller General.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.