Wireless group pushes hunt for spectrum

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. wireless industry is pressing a key senator to clear the way for a government study that could accelerate plans to free up airwaves for devices such as smart phones.

Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, has blocked the Senate’s spectrum inventory measure from moving through the chamber because he believes the measure will add to the country’s budget deficit due to its $22 million price tag.

But a meeting on Tuesday between Coburn and Steve Largent, who heads the CTIA wireless industry trade group that represents AT&T Inc, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel Corp and T-Mobile, yielded some progress, raising hopes the strained wireless industry could get relief.

Verizon Wireless is a venture between Verizon Communications and Vodafone Group Plc. T-Mobile is the U.S. unit of Deutsche Telekom AG.

“We’re making progress and are hopeful this bill will be fully offset,” Coburn’s spokesman, John Hart, said on Thursday, adding that Coburn is working with Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine to find ways to pay for the spectrum study required by the bill.

Snowe is a senior Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, which approved the legislation last July. The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a companion bill earlier this month.

The Federal Communications Commission unveiled a plan earlier this year that calls for auctioning spectrum held by broadcasters and other licensees to wireless companies under a voluntary program.

The wireless companies need spectrum to meet a burgeoning demand for wireless devices as more consumers access the Internet using smartphones and other wireless devices. However, the broadcasting industry is largely opposed to giving up the highly sought-after real estate.

The measures being considered in Congress would require U.S. regulators to conduct a comprehensive survey of the airwaves being used by the government and all companies and possibly make recommendations for reallocating blocks of spectrum for commercial use.

One proposals, that Coburn is not keen on, would use proceeds from future spectrum auctions to pay for the costs of the study.

However, he is considering proposals to use funds left over from the digital television transition program and possibly tapping into the Commerce Department’s budget for conference and travel expenses that would total about $10 million.

“CTIA continues to meet with policymakers to discuss this very important issue,” said CTIA spokeswoman Amy Storey. “Spectrum is vital to our industry as it fuels the virtuous cycle of innovation and ensures we can meet consumers’ increasing demands for mobile Internet access.”

Reporting by John Poirier; Editing by Tim Dobbyn