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Court approves sale of NextWave licenses

A bankruptcy court clears the way for Cingular Wireless to buy a large swath of spectrum from NextWave Telecom for $1.4 billion.

A bankruptcy court has cleared the way for Cingular Wireless, the second-largest cell phone carrier in the United States, to buy a large swath of spectrum from NextWave Telecom.

Under terms of the deal, which was approved Thursday by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for Southern New York, Cingular will pay NextWave $1.4 billion in cash for the wireless spectrum. NextWave will use at least half the cash to settle some of the debt it built up buying the airwaves more than six years ago.

Cingular plans to use the spectrum to bolster coverage in several key markets in 12 states, the company said Friday. The spectrum also lets Cingular expand into Tampa, Fla., Portland, Ore., Salt Lake City, El Paso, Texas, and other smaller markets.

The court's decision means Cingular can now apply for appropriate regulatory approvals to finalize the spectrum handover, a crucial last step before using the airwaves, a Cingular representative said.

It's "a significant milestone for Cingular," Mark Feidler, chief operating officer of the company, said in a statement.

A NextWave representative was not immediately available for comment.

The bankruptcy court ruling is a major step in ending what has been a six-year battle over the airwaves that New York-based NextWave bought for $4.7 billion at an auction in 1996. The company made $500 million in payments before entering bankruptcy protection in 1998.

The Federal Communications Commission re-auctioned the licenses twice after NextWave did not pay for them on time. At a second auction, wireless carriers paid nearly $16 billion for the licenses--almost four times what NextWave had promised to pay. The Supreme Court in January voted 8-1 to uphold a U.S. appeals court decision that the FCC had violated bankruptcy law when it repossessed wireless licenses awarded to NextWave.