Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell has recommended to fellow commissioners that the FCC award 10 MHz of spectrum in the 1.9 GHz band to Nextel Communications, the Wall Street Journal reported today. The award would be part of a deal that would require Nextel to reband 800 MHz airwaves to solve interference problems that plague public-safety communications. The other FCC commissioners are expected to unanimously approve the award, the paper said.

Such an award will almost immediately be challenged in court. Nextel rival Verizon Wireless has vowed repeatedly to file suit, claiming that current telecommunications law prevents the FCC from awarding spectrum outside of an auction. The commission believes it has such authority because it would be modifying an existing license, not granting a new one.

Verizon believes Nextel would receive an unwarranted windfall should it receive the 1.9 GHz airwaves--which Verizon claims are worth a minimum of $5 billion--and has suggested an award of 2.1 GHz airwaves as an alternative. Nextel, in its initial white paper on solving 800 MHz interference, previously said it would accept an award of 2.1 GHz spectrum, but now says its use of the airwaves today would be technologically unfeasible and cost-prohibitive because of changes in FCC rules that govern the use of those airwaves.

In addition, Nextel claims the spectrum it would provide to public-safety in the deal, the cost it would incur to reband the 800 MHz airwaves, and the value of spectrum it would clear in the 1.9 GHz band in a deal with broadcasters--airwaves the FCC could then auction-- would result in a packages worth $5.4 billion, which would be in line with the projected value of the 1.9 GHz spectrum it stands to receive, if that spectrum were to be auctioned.