Top wireless carriers denied clearance for airwaves auction

The Federal Communications Commission tells top carriers including AT&T and Sprint that they'll have to file more paperwork before they can bid on valuable air space.

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WASHINGTON--The Federal Communications Commission on Friday told top carriers including AT&T, Sprint, Nextel and Cingular Wireless that they'll have to file more paperwork before they can bid on valuable air space.

The list of 44 wireless companies approved by the FCC to bid in a December airwaves auction was missing some important names, including AT&T Wireless, Cingular Wireless (a partnership of BellSouth and SBC), Nextel, Sprint PCS and VoiceStream, among others.

Those companies, as well as 61 others, have until Nov. 28 to submit new applications. They'll still have to give the commission their down payments by Nov. 27, the same time as the other companies approved.

Interest in the Dec. 12 auction is extremely high, as national carriers are facing an airwaves drought because of the growth in both new customers and the wireless use of existing customers. The airwaves being auctioned next month, which include licenses across the United States, are considered prime because they are completely unused and could be easily paired with a carrier's existing airspace in a given market.

The FCC said 66 questionable applications were incomplete but didn't indicate what the problems may have been. Each company will be notified directly as to what it needs to do to get its application in compliance, the commission said.

Bankrupt NextWave Telecom, which forfeited its 95 licenses and makes up the largest chunk of the 500 or so licenses up for sale next month, is continuing its fight to get its licenses back. A federal court has set a late January date for briefs in a case questioning the legitimacy of the FCC's retrieval of those licenses.

If NextWave prevails, the companies that won those 95 licenses would have to return them to NextWave. The federal government would refund them the money spent at auction, but any investment made in infrastructure to take advantage of that spectrum would have to be treated as a business loss.

NextWave is waging an effort in Congress to have the auction postponed until the legal battle is resolved.

At a meeting with reporters Thursday, FCC Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth speculated that the doubt surrounding the auction and many of the licenses could depress the bidding prices.

Of the 102 carriers seeking to bid in the Dec. 12 auction, the FCC issued outright rejections for only two: Devon Mobile Communications and Theta Communications. No explanation was given.