Key U.S. broadband official: More spectrum needed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. regulators are seeking ways to make more efficient use of the airwaves as consumers’ use of smartphones is expected to surge, the official spearheading the national broadband program said on Wednesday.

Tom Skidmore, who was laid off in December from his sales career with Nortel, checks his Blackberry during a "job club" at the Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Olathe, Kansas February 25, 2009. REUTERS/Dave Kaup

“A key input is spectrum,” Blair Levin, the top broadband official at the Federal Communications Commission, told industry executives and lobbyists. “There is consensus in the record; there is not enough of it.”

Levin and the FCC are crafting a national broadband plan, as mandated by Congress, to extend broadband services to unserved Americans living in rural areas and to make broadband affordable for those living in urban areas.

One of the ways being considered to increase broadband use is to free up some of the airwaves, or spectrum, that is currently being held by U.S. government agencies such as the Department of Defense.

“The demand curves from uses like smartphones suggest it’s going to increase dramatically, for spectrum,” Levin said.

The wireless industry is anticipating increasing demand over the next several years for smartphones like Apple Inc’s iPhone, Palm Inc’s Pre and Verizon Wireless’ Storm.

Verizon Wireless is a joint venture between Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc. AT&T Inc is the exclusive provider for the iPhone, and Sprint Nextel Corp provides service for the Pre.

T-Mobile, a unit of Deutsche Telekom AG, is also seeking more spectrum.

CTIA, a wireless trade association, is prodding Congress to move legislation that would take inventory of what portions are being used and by whom.

“We can’t wait eight to 11 years for additional spectrum,” CTIA President Steve Largent told reporters. He said his group will urge lawmakers to include language in legislation to set a timetable for spectrum auctions for businesses.

Both chambers of Congress are considering legislation.

Reporting by John Poirier; editing by John Wallace