NEW YORK (AP) -- Under court order, the Federal Communications Commission on Friday returned valuable wireless licenses to NextWave Telecom Inc., a bankrupt company fighting to retain control of its coveted spectrum.
The return of the licenses is a blow to the hopes of three Alaska Native corporations that had won some of the licenses in an FCC auction in January.
The three Native corporations, Arctic Slope Regional Corp., Doyon Ltd., and Sealaska Corp.had formed Alaska Native Wireless. That entity, in a partnership with AT&T Wireless Group, had bid $2.9 billion for 44 licenses that give the group the right to sell wireless service in New York City, Los Angeles, Portland, Denver, Minneapolis, and Tampa, as well as Southeast and Interior Alaska.
But NextWave, which had lost the licenses for non-payment in January of 2000, sued the FCC for seizing the licenses and won in federal appeals court in June.
NextWave had filed for bankruptcy after paying just $500 million toward the licenses. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered the FCC to return the licenses, based on earlier rulings that the agency could not seize the property of a company reorganizing under bankruptcy protection.
NextWave has just begun to build the network to support service; it claims limited service will be available next year.
''The company appreciates the swift manner in which the Wireless Bureau has implemented the court's mandate,'' said Michael Wack, deputy general counsel of the Hawthorne, N.Y.-based company. He called the action ''a big step toward putting the licenses into use to bring competition and new services to the public.''
The FCC is asking the Supreme Court to review the case.
The high bidders to take over the coveted wireless spectrum petitioned the FCC Thursday to deny NextWave's licenses, claiming the company no longer qualifies as a small business since is has ceded control to its financial and technical backers.
''Its attempts to 'game' the guidelines have deprived consumers of this valuable wireless spectrum for way too long and have also denied the U.S. Treasury of much needed revenue,'' said Brian T. O'Connor, vice president of legislative and regulatory affairs at VoiceStream, one of the main U.S. providers of cellular service.
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