Nextel Communications gained the support of broadcasters yesterday by offering to pay $512 million of TV stations’ costs associated with transitioning to new digital equipment, should the FCC award Nextel the spectrum it wants at 1.9 GHz as part of a plan to resolve public-safety interference issues at 800 MHz.

As part of the “Consensus Plan” being considered by the FCC, Nextel would receive 10 MHz of spectrum at 1.9 GHz in return for giving public safety an additional 2.5 MHz of spectrum at 800 MHz. Nextel also would pay the cost of rebanding all parties operating at 800 MHz into contiguous blocks of spectrum, which is expected to reduce interference problems for public-safety entities. Nextel has pledged $850 million for the rebanding.

Half of the spectrum Nextel would receive under the Consensus Plan is used by Broadcast Auxiliary Service (BAS) licensees for electronic news gathering (ENG) services such as live feeds from remote locations—a key component to news coverage, according to David Donovan, president of the Association of Maximum Television Services (MSTV), a trade association representing the broadcast TV industry on technical issues.

The FCC has ordered broadcasters to vacate spectrum from 1990-2025 MHz by using more efficient digital technology, but the new equipment is expensive, Donovan said. Broadcasters were supposed to negotiate deals with mobile satellite service (MSS) providers such as Iridium and Globalstar to generate revenue, but they declared bankruptcy--disrupting those plans--and are "still financially challenged," Donovan said. “We’ve had a problem,” Donovan said. “Either we lose two channels of service (with existing analog equipment), or we pay up front (for digital equipment), relocate and try to negotiate with someone who has no money—an absurd result.”

With Nextel willing to pay all the broadcasters’ costs, an orderly BAS transition from analog to digital would ensue, enhancing local news coverage--something that is particularly important during emergency situations, Donovan said. “We think this makes eminent sense for the American public,” he said.

Also supported by the powerful National Association of Broadcasters, the proposal would address this sticky situation for the FCC as well as remove any incumbent users from the 1.9 GHz spectrum Nextel seeks as part of the Consensus Plan, Nextel spokeswoman Leigh Horner said.

In addition, relocating the broadcasters would give the FCC unencumbered spectrum that could be auctioned, according to the joint FCC filing submitted yesterday by Nextel, MSTV and the NAB.

“The BAS relocation plan proposed herein would also facilitate entry by new terrestrial wireless licensees into the 1995-2000 MHz and 2020-2025 MHz band,” the filing states. “The Commission has reallocated this spectrum from MSS to fixed and mobile use, and has proposed designating it for CMRS services, including advanced wireless services.

“Because Nextel would assume responsibility for relocating BAS incumbents out of the spectrum on an expedited basis, new licensees in the spectrum could deploy their operations without having to front the costs of clearing BAS incumbents from the entire 1990-2025 MHz band.”

Verizon Wireless last month told the FCC it would open bidding at $5 billion for the nationwide 1.9 GHz spectrum Nextel is seeking under the Consensus Plan. Nextel announced the offer one business day after the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association filed a “compromise” proposal with the FCC that called for Nextel to pay $3 billion and receive replacement spectrum at 2.1 GHz—not the 1.9 GHz airwaves Nextel covets.

Previously, CTIA and Verizon Wireless had threatened litigation that likely would delay 800 MHz rebanding if the FCC awarded spectrum to Nextel without an auction. Both CTIA and Verizon said they would not challenge an award of 2.1 GHz spectrum in court, but Verizon would not make the same claim if the FCC earmarks the more valuable 1.9 GHz airwaves for Nextel in an 800 MHz plan.

Nextel’s Horner said “there’s a logical inconsistency” in Verizon’s legal stance that it would accept the FCC awarding 2.1 GHz spectrum but might challenge the inclusion of 1.9 GHz spectrum in an order. Meanwhile, Nextel told the FCC in a recent filing that it does not want 2.1 GHz spectrum, which would cost significantly more to use than 1.9 GHz airwaves.

Getting broadcasters’ support is helpful in any cause, particularly during an election year, but the latest Nextel proposal still has a major flaw, according to Precursor wireless strategist Rudy Baca.

“Once again, Nextel is attempting to solve problems for the FCC, but it still doesn’t address the litigation risk (associated with the FCC awarding 1.9 GHz spectrum without an auction),” Baca said.

Although there has been speculation that the FCC might issue an order during its May 13 meeting, Baca said Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein noted at a recent breakfast that it could be “several more weeks” before the commission announces its decision.