Public-safety officials reacted happily to yesterday’s announcement that Nextel and Verizon Wireless have settled their legal differences, which included Verizon dropping its objections to the FCC’s 800 MHz rebanding order., believing that the settlement clears the way for rebanding to begin.

The settlement included a stipulation that Verizon will not challenge in court the FCC plan to give Nextel 1.9 GHz spectrum in return for paying for the rebanding of 800 MHz frequencies to alleviate public-safety interference problems.

Since the unveiling of the Nextel proposal to reband spectrum at 800 MHz almost three years ago, Verizon Wireless officials had indicated they would litigate any FCC effort to award Nextel spectrum without an auction. Verizon’s litigation threat was one of the two primary legal barriers to the 800 MHz order proceeding.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is considering the other legal issue—whether the FCC overstepped its authority with the 800 MHz order by directing the disbursement of funds associated with a spectrum award. Precursor wireless strategist Rudy Baca reiterated his belief that the GAO legal opinion will nix Nextel’s spectrum gains at 1.9 GHz that are important to the wireless carrier’s plans to offer advanced wireless services.

“[The settlement] solves one of Nextel’s legal problems, but it doesn’t take care of the other—the GAO investigation,” Baca said. “Verizon played this smart. I think they believe the GAO will block the 1.9 [GHz spectrum] award … Verizon will get the outcome it wants, and it doesn’t have to take the heat associated with challenging it in court.”

But several sources noted that even an unfavorable GAO opinion is not a binding legal ruling, only a recommendation for Congress. And Congress is not interested in becoming embroiled in the extremely contentious 800 MHz issue, according to Harlin McEwen, chairman of the communications and technology committee of for the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

“They can’t even get an agreement on the Intelligence bill,” McEwen said. “There is nobody on the Hill who has told us they want to deal with this.”

McEwen and other public-safety officials hailed news of the settlement, which greatly increases the likelihood that 800 MHz rebanding will proceed without the threat of legal delays.

APCO International is very pleased that Verizon has dropped its objections to the FCC’s 800 MHz order,” Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International President Greg Ballentine said. “We urge Nextel and the FCC to proceed as quickly as possible so that all 800 MHz licensees can move towards implementing the 800 MHz rebanding, which will end dangerous interference to public safety radio systems.”

Another aspect of the settlement stipulated that Verizon will be allowed to use the term “push to talk” in the marketing of its P2T service without fear of litigation from Nextel, which had claimed copyright privileges. Other terms of the settlement were not released.

Unanimously approved by the FCC in July, the 800 MHz order has yet to be published in the Federal Register, although agency sources are hopeful that will occur in this week or next. The GAO is expected to announce its legal opinion during the same time period.

Nextel is required to decide whether it will accept the terms of the 800 MHz order within 75 days after the item is published in the Federal Register.