FCC officials have discussed the possibility of substituting 2.1 GHz airwaves for the 1.9 GHz spectrum Nextel Communications is seeking as part of the “Consensus Plan” the commission is considering to resolve interference problems for public-safety radio systems operating at 800 MHz. But sources indicated this option is a longshot at best.

Verizon Wireless last week pledged an opening bid of $5 billion, if the 10 MHz of 1.9 GHz spectrum earmarked to Nextel were to be auctioned. Combined with the virtual certainty that awarding the spectrum to Nextel without an auction—a key component of the 800 MHz rebanding proposal—this declaration makes it tougher for the FCC to award the airwaves to Nextel for $1.5 billion to $3 billion, which has been the estimated cost cited in numerous reports.

Harlin McEwen, chairman of the communications and technology committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said multiple sources told him the FCC had “floated” the 2.1 GHz idea as an alternative to the 1.9 GHz. In fact, Nextel proposed that 2.1 GHz be used in its initial 800 MHz rebanding proposal in 2001, he said. However, FCC rules made the spectrum “unacceptable” to Nextel, which then turned to the 1.9 GHz airwaves, McEwen said.

Indeed, Precursor wireless strategist Rudy Baca said the 2.1 GHz alternative is largely a “moot point.” FCC rules allow spectrum at 2.1 GHz to be used for an offering that includes a terrestrial component, but the primary use for the spectrum is for satellite systems—something Nextel does not own, Baca said.

Meanwhile, if Nextel does not get spectrum at 1.9 GHz, McEwen said he fears the interference problem at 800 MHz will continue for public safety.

“The point is, Nextel has agreed to do certain things on the basis that they get that [1.9 GHz spectrum],” McEwen said. “If it doesn’t happen and Nextel fixes it anyway, we’re fine—but they’ve said they won’t.”

A key component for public-safety entities is Nextel’s pledge to pay $850 million to offset the cost of retuning radios, many of which are owned by budget-strapped governmental entities. Many argue that the cost will be greater than Nextel’s pledge, but having a certain funding source is crucial to making a rebanding plan work.

Although Verizon Wireless has promised to pay much more for the 1.9 GHz airwaves than Nextel, auction proceeds are contributed to the U.S. Treasury and cannot be earmarked for a given purpose, such as rebanding, without an act of Congress.

“If [Verizon Wireless] got this to go to auction and they paid $5 billion for that spectrum, we have no solution to the problem,” McEwen said.

A Nextel spokesman declined to comment on the 2.1 GHz speculation but acknowledged that the Consensus Plan, including the 1.9 GHz spectrum, was proposed as part of a “comprehensive” solution. Calls to Verizon Wireless were not returned in time for this story.

With reporting by Glenn Bischoff in Chicago