Everybody Wins

Everybody Wins

Byline: Dan O’Shea

For some time now, Nextel Communications has been calling its solution to interference with public-safety spectrum the Consensus Plan – because most public-safety agencies agreed with it and no one else proposed an alternative. It is no longer lost on anyone how ill-fitting that moniker has become.

The industry’s various lobbying forces are never more energetic than in the final seconds of the final round of the fight. But that still doesn’t fully explain why opposition to the Consensus Plan has become so extreme.

The pending acquisition of AT&T Wireless by Cingular Wireless, along with last week’s related acquisition of Cingular properties in two states by T-Mobile, set a market value on spectrum that all but faded during the industry’s years of economic decline. Mobile data upgrades by Verizon Wireless and other carriers also did their part to reinforce the value of holding spectrum – and of getting it if you don’t have enough.

Amid fluctuations in the perceived value of spectrum, however, the industry should not lose sight of what this issue is really about – solving a problem that affects the ability of the public-safety agencies in this country to do their jobs. With their near-constant bickering in the last few months continuing to delay a decision that should have been made by now, Nextel, Verizon, the CTIA and others already seem to have lost that perspective.

The interference issue needs to be solved now, and the FCC has to do everything in its power to make sure that happens. That means allowing Nextel to have the spectrum at 1.9 GHz that it seeks – though at a price higher than the $850 million proposed in the Consensus Plan. Nextel should have better spectrum than that at 2.1 GHz if it’s willing to pay for it, and if it isn’t willing, then it doesn’t really have public safety’s best interests in mind.

That solution won’t appease Consensus Plan opponents, but here’s another idea: With last week’s bankruptcy court approval sending NextWave’s 1.9 GHz spectrum licenses back to the FCC, there could be a 1.9 GHz auction at some point in the not-too-distant future. There will be plenty of that quality spectrum to go around, and with Nextel already having some, maybe the bidding won’t be quite as high and contentious as it otherwise would have been.

The FCC should set a precedent in its Consensus Plan decision by authorizing the use of valuable, quality spectrum to solve problems. This doesn’t necessarily mean that in the future the FCC won’t be able to hold spectrum auctions or distribute spectrum in other ways.

Spectrum may be a commodity once it enters the marketplace, available to be traded, bought and sold on negotiable terms. But as long as spectrum is in the FCC’s governance, the commission should make sure it is put to a use that serves the best interests of users and the nation rather than strictly serving the bottom lines of some of the nation’s largest corporations.

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