Nextel Would Pay $500M ENG Bill

The transition to digital TV is squeezing stations in many ways. The most apparent is the loss of chs. 52-69, forcing stations in the upper channels to move down to "core" chs. 2-49 once the industry goes all-digital.

Another squeeze is a government order to give up some channels on a different batch of frequencies used to beam live news reports and sports coverage back to the studio. After the switch, live reports will be transmitted over smaller digital channels. Over the next 10 years, broadcasters are supposed to relinquish one-third of their so-called "electronic newsgathering" channels to satellite communications companies.

The problem is, the move is expected to cost stations hundreds of millions of dollars and, even though the satellite companies are legally obligated to pay for the costs of buying or adapting transmission trucks and receive sites, few have raised enough money to build out their communications networks, much less pay broadcasters.

Enter wireless phone giant Nextel with a plan to get the industry out of the Catch-22. Let's Call it Catch 500,000,000. It's clearly a solution the industry can live with.

Monday, Nextel, joined by DTV trade group MSTV and the NAB unveiled a plan to speed the ENG transition and ensure that stations get the compensation they are supposed to.

Nextel is offering to pay $500 million upfront to help broadcasters make the move. In return, Nextel wants FCC assurance that it will get a small sliver of the spectrum now used for ENG channels as well as another chunk of spectrum close by.

The ENG channels broadcasters would be giving up are located at the 1990-2025 MHz portion of the spectrum. Nextel wants rights to that 1990-1995 MHz portion as well a spot at the 1910-1915 MHz patch. When satellite companies are ready to operate the remaining 1990-2025 MHz channels, they'll have to reimburse Nextel.

Besides speeding the ENG takeback, the government would get another benefit from the new plan: Nextel would vacate crowded spectrum at 800 MHz where phone users routinely interfere with communications of public safety departments.