High court to review wireless dispute

Posted: Tuesday, March 05, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a dispute over the ownership of wireless phone frequencies, a conflict that has tied up millions of dollars belonging to several Alaska Native corporations.

Conrad Bagne, head of Alaska Native Wireless in Anchorage, said his company welcomed the Supreme Court's review.

''The Supreme Court's decision to hear this case is a victory for the integrity of the Federal Communications Commission's auction process and the wireless consumers the process was designed to serve,'' Bagne said.

With the help of small-business and minority preferences, Alaska Native Wireless won ownership of numerous frequencies in major U.S. cities in an FCC auction in January 2001.

The sale was nullified when NextWave -- a company that had previously bought the frequencies but didn't pay for them -- won a court decision in July.

The FCC appealed to the Supreme Court, which decided Monday to take the case.

Doyon Ltd., Sealaska Corp. and Arctic Slope Regional Corp. -- the managing partner -- put $260 million into Alaska Native Wireless. Doyon's share was about $25 million.

Alaska Native Wireless' backer, however, is AT&T, with a $2.6 billion investment, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

Alaska Native Wireless and other auction winners asked Congress last year to approve a settlement. They would have kept the wireless spectrum and paid their full original bid price, and the government would have paid about $6 billion to settle NextWave's claim. Several members of Congress objected, and the deal stalled.

The deal was only good until Dec. 31. So on Jan. 4, Alaska Native Wireless and several other spectrum winners asked the FCC to return their down payments.

The FCC still holds $544 million from Alaska Native Wireless, out of $3.1 billion from the auction winners.

The companies want their money back. The commission, they say, has held the money interest-free since February 2001, at a cost to the companies of ''at least $430,000 a day and a total of at least $140 million through the date of this petition.''

The Jan. 4 filing with the FCC indicates that the proposed settlement agreement has terminated.

Alaska Native Wireless still hopes to secure the wireless frequencies, said Bagne, who is also chief operating officer of Arctic Slope Regional Corp.

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