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A large, empty wedge of the country’s wireless spectrum may soon be freed for use by major carriers in a settlement involving NextWave Telecom Inc. and the Federal Communications Commission. Lawyers for the FCC and NextWave, along with four wireless telecom carriers, are close to resolving the legal dispute, which stems from NextWave’s successful $4.7 billion bid for 95 wireless licenses at auction in 1996, according to sources close to the talks. A final deal could be announced as early as today, one source said. FCC spokesman David Fiske declined to comment on the progress of negotiations. “A lot of detail is still being worked out,” Fiske said. The FCC seized the airwave licenses after NextWave sought bankruptcy protection in 1998, re-auctioning them in January for almost $16 billion in a sale later vacated by a federal court. The FCC’s pending U.S. Supreme Court appeal against that decision will be dropped as part of the settlement, one source said. The dispute over the licenses has prevented wireless carriers from using the spectrum to provide relief to their overburdened networks. The proposed settlement would hand $5 billion to Hawthorne, N.Y.-based NextWave, a 60-employee company that paid just $500 million of its debt before seeking bankruptcy protection. The FCC would be paid the remaining $11 billion, sources said. Companies to receive the NextWave licenses include Verizon Wireless, investment partners of AT&T Wireless Services Inc., the VoiceStream Wireless unit of Deutsche Telekom AG and Cingular Wireless. Officials at NextWave, AT&T Wireless and Verizon declined to comment. Spokesmen for VoiceStream and Cingular did not immediately return calls. The proposed agreement would alleviate overcrowding on wireless airwaves, improving service in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Seattle and dozens of other cities. Verizon would get the largest share of licenses under the deal, paying $8.8 billion for 45 licenses, including coverage in New York, Boston and other major cities, the sources said. AT&T Wireless would receive licenses in 43 markets — including New York and Los Angeles — through a $2.9 billion bid by Alaska Native Wireless, a group of investors backed by AT&T Wireless. The settlement proposal requires some of the wireless companies to put up letters of credit by January and pay for the licenses in full by mid-2002, one source said. When the FCC receives payment, it would pay NextWave its share. Copyright 2001 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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