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FCC Chairman: Moment Of Truth Coming For Nextel

The FCC's decision on reshuffling Nextel Communications' spectrum is likely to come by the end of the month, according to FCC Chairman Michael Powell.

The issue has generated fierce infighting among cell-phone service providers, and a variety of politicians and advocacy groups have been drawn into the battle.

Following the FCC's monthly meeting Thursday, Powell addressed the issue: "I can only say that we are still pretty confident that we are making progress, and we are going to get there pretty soon." He indicated he hoped a decision on the issue could be reached by the end of the month.

Money is at the root of the debate, with Nextel offering $850 million to pay for moving public-safety organizations--police and fire departments, mainly--in a reshuffling of spectrum. Nextel wants spectrum in the premium 1.9-GHz band, but its cell-phone competitors, led by Verizon Wireless, say that that spectrum band should be auctioned off with a starting price of $5 billion. Verizon Wireless and Nextel have both threatened legal action if they don't get their respective ways.

Earlier this week, Nextel drew a line in the sand, stating it had an "unwavering commitment to the Consensus Plan." That plan, which has been endorsed by some public-safety groups, calls for a realignment of Nextel's use of the 800-MHz band. Nextel's opponents have suggested that it be awarded spectrum in the 2.1-GHz band, which is less useful than the 1.9-GHz band; Nextel opposes that move. The challenge facing the FCC is to reshuffle Nextel's service among different bands, including the 700-MHz, 800-MHz, 900-MHz, 1.9-GHz, and 2.1-GHz spectrums.