After years of proceedings, the long-awaited 800 MHz rebanding officially begins today with the beginning of the voluntary negotiation period for Wave 1 licensees in the Channel 1-120 range, which must be cleared before other 800 MHz users can be relocated to frequencies.

Affected licensees in the 800 MHz will be negotiating primarily with Nextel Communications, the wireless carrier responsible for paying for the massive rebanding effort, but they also can work through the Transition Administrator team headed by Project Manager Brett Haan. Although the voluntary negotiating period is just beginning, some licensees already have had contract discussions, according to various sources.

Nextel spokesman Tim O’Regan said his company would not comment on the status of negotiations to this point but said rebanding is proceeding well in the early stages.

“We’re pleased with the progress that has been made to date,” O’Regan said.

Designed to eliminate interference with public-safety communications, rebanding is supposed to be completed in three years, although scheduled implementations for Wave 4 licensees cannot begin until after the U.S. signs treaties with Mexico and Canada to resolve spectrum issues along the borders for the 800 MHz band.

Public-safety officials applauded the beginning of the effort.

“We in the public-safety community are extremely grateful and gratified to see this process underway,” Robert DiPoli, president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, said in a prepared statement. “We know this will not be an overnight fix, nor should it, knowing how complex the problem of interference is. What’s important to us is that in three years, public safety will have a solution to a problem that’s been putting lives at risk for far too long.”