NextWave Communications and the government appear to be near a settlement on $17-billion worth of hotly contested wireless licenses.
According to published reports, NextWave has tentatively agreed to sell most of its “third generation” wireless licenses to Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and several other large telephone companies for between $5 and $7 billion. The companies would make an additional $10 billion payment to the government to seal the deal.
The arrangement would solve a long and tendentious dispute about the fate of licenses originally auctioned to Nextwave in 1996. But the company was unable make good on the payment of $4.7 billion and the licenses went into default.
Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission re-auctioned the licenses to mostly large carriers for $17 billion, but a federal court stepped in shortly afterwards and ruled that NextWave still had the rights to the spectrum. A stalemate ensued that left the valuable airwaves unused.
If completed the deal represents an enormous windfall for NextWave, which has been in bankruptcy. The company could get up to $7 billion for licenses it only paid $500 million for. Some news accounts said NextWave will have to pay the original $4.2 billion auction fee back to the Treasury and that the company will retain rights to some of the spectrum.