VZW Gets Dirty In Nextel Spectrum Swap Battle

A new installment in our ongoing coverage of the so-called Nextel Spectrum Swap issue. Nextel cell phone towers are interfering with public safety (fire, police, etc.) radios in the 800MHz range, and Nextel is pushing for swapping their 800 frequencies for some cherry 1.9GHz channels, named the ‘Consensus Plan’. The Consensus Plan is receiving bitter opposition from the CTIA, and more notably Verizon Wireless, who have protested the fairness of offering Nextel high-value 1.9GHz spectrum, arguing that this makes a windfall for Nextel. Techdirt has taken the stand that Nextel’s interference is through no fault of their own, and that it is imperative that the interference with public safety be stopped before lives are lost. Therefore, I have written in the past that we don’t care if Nextel gets a windfall, we like the Consensus Plan because it is the most likely to be implemented quickly. Well, I’ve caught some flack from some readers for my “don’t care about the windfall” statement. To be clear, we don’t like a windfall, because it’s not fair to the other market players, but in this case, the cost of allowing a Nextel windfall is greatly outweighed by the net social benefit of reduced public safety interference. That’s why it is so irksome that Verizon Wireless is pulling every political arrow in their quiver to delay or stop the consensus plan. Today, they have upped their invective to threaten any FCC commissioners that support the Consensus Plan with legal action against them personally. While we sympathize with Verizon Wireless since the Consensus plan may not be entirely fair, we still believe that a threat to public safety trumps the windfall issue. Since Nextel is the company that will have to execute the swap, any plan with a realistic hope of speedy implementation requires Nextel’s endorsement, not Verizon’s. If we instead adopt a solution endorsed by Verizon and the CTIA (a 2.1GHz swap), how fast do we think Nextel would comply? Surely they would drag their heels, protest, lobby, etc. just like VZW is now. The interference problem should be solved between the FCC, public safety reps, and Nextel. It should be solved quickly, and in the interests of the American public. Other carriers have said their piece, now they should get out of the way. What will be the PR implications for VZW if their delays end up killing some firemen?

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