The Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) today filed a “compromise” proposal designed to resolve interference with public-safety communications at 800 MHz in a manner that the wireless trade organization claims to be “legally sustainable.”

CTIA’s proposal generally follows the framework of the so-called Consensus Plan, in which the FCC would reband 800 MHz frequencies to provide contiguous spectrum in the band for Nextel Communications and public safety. However, Nextel would receive 10 MHz of spectrum at 2.1 GHz instead of the 1.9 GHz airwaves it wants in the Consensus Plan.

CTIA also calls for Nextel to pay $3 billion, which is more than the $850 million the carrier would pay under the Consensus Plan but in line with the amount analysts have speculated the FCC would require for replacement spectrum at 1.9 GHz. But the CTIA plan calls for all the money to be held in a independently controlled trust fund for public safety and would prohibit Nextel from receiving the replacement spectrum until it rebanded in a given market.

"This compromise puts public safety first and that's the most important thing,” CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent said in a prepared statement. “Public safety has been swinging in the wind for too long. This proposal ends public safety radio interference in a prescribed period of time, and makes sure the costs of rebanding are completely covered.”

In addition, Largent said the proposal is “legally sustainable.” This represents a notable change in position for the organization, which previously expressed opposition to any plan that would award Nextel spectrum without an auction. CTIA spokesman Travis Larson said the association still believes spectrum should be auctioned but believes this issue is more important.

“Public-safety radio interference is a serious problem, and it’s time it got solved,” Larson said. “It’s better for us to sacrifice our principles on spectrum auctions than to risk the lives of public-safety officers and civilians.”

Given this stance, Larson was asked why CTIA didn’t propose awarding Nextel spectrum at 1.9 GHz—a notion that Verizon Wireless has opposed numerous times.

“We’re looking for a compromise that solves public safety’s concerns first and is minimally acceptable to all,” Larson said.

Indeed, Nextel’s 2001 white paper that proved to be the foundation for the Consensus Plan included 2.1 GHz spectrum instead of 1.9 GHz. However, Nextel has told the FCC that spectrum-allocation changes have made 2.1 GHz airwaves unfavorable economically and would require a new comment period, which would further delay resolution of the lengthy debate.

“We can’t envision a plan involving 2.1 GHz spectrum that would bring fair value to our shareholders,” Nextel spokeswoman Leigh Horner said.

But the interests of public safety—not shareholders—should be the focus as the FCC tries to solve the interference problem at 800 MHz, according to Verizon Wireless spokesman Jeffrey Nelson.

“At this point, we find out what [Nextel’s] true motivation is,” Nelson said. “Is it to help public safety, or is it a spectrum grab? Their position on this proposal will make it clear.”

Nelson reiterated Verizon’s position that it does not believe the FCC has legal right to sell spectrum privately, as is called for in the CTIA proposal. However, Verizon will not challenge awarding 2.1 GHz spectrum to Nextel in court because of the possible delays it would cause to resolving the public-safety issue, he said.

“We would support this; it’s hard not to support this,” Nelson said. “This is too important for public safety to hide behind anything—that goes for us, and it goes for Nextel. Everyone has to eat their vegetables on this one.”

Nelson said Verizon would ask the FCC to make clear in its order that the private spectrum sale is a one-time occurrence to solve this problem, not a precedent.

However, Nelson said Verizon would not take the same position if the FCC decides to award Nextel spectrum at 1.9 GHz, which he described as “prime real estate” for commercial wireless carriers.

“Technologically, there is no reason why this giveaway [proposed by CTIA] isn’t sufficient,” Nelson said.