NextWave Shrugs Off Supreme Court Rebuff

For those of us who can't get enough of seemingly endless public battles: Wireless-giant-wannabe NextWave Telecom Inc. says it will not let a U.S. Supreme Court setback on Monday prevent it from trying to win back the wireless spectrum the company says it owns.

The high court decided for a second time not to hear the case in which NextWave says it was improperly stripped of spectrum it bid $4.7 billion for in 1996. The Federal Communications Commission nullified NextWave's winning bid when it initially could not come up with more than its $500 million down payment. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in 1998. The licenses in question are worth fighting for. They cover all of the top 10 and 28 of the top 30 U.S. markets, and are scheduled to be auctioned again by the FCC on Dec. 12.

The company has suggested the FCC postpone the auction until after its latest court challenge, before the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia, is decided. A NextWave spokesman claims the FCC says that being bankrupt, which protects a company from those it owes money to, doesn't apply to radio-frequency licenses. Legal briefs for the company are due Dec. 11, a day before the next auction.

"Spectrum for wireless services in major metros might as well be gold bullion nowadays as major and minor wireless network operators scramble to expand the coverage and capacity of their often brittle networks," says Daniel Briere, CEO of telecom consulting firm TeleChoice. "They had the right plan at the right time, but simply bid far more than they could afford, bringing them to the rather desperate plight they're in now."

The value of spectrum is soaring as wireless operators focus primarily on selling higher-bandwidth wireless data services than are generally available today. They want to take advantage of an avalanche of Internet-ready mobile devices and E-commerce opportunities.

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