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Tom Wheeler Is Advocate for Mobile-Telephone Industry

2001 March 23 /E Las Vegas,
(Bloomberg) —

Tom Wheeler, standing 6- foot-4 with a soldier's bearing, is hard to miss, especially when he's talking about the U.S. mobile-telephone business.

Wheeler is president of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, the spokesman for a two-decade-old industry with more than 150,000 employees and annual revenue of $45 billion. He fights for carriers including AT&T Wireless Group and Verizon Wireless Inc. on issues such as banning cell phones in cars or limiting new antenna towers. After 32 years in the nation's capital, his Rolodex is filled with names of political and social elite and has a reputation as a successful lobbyist.

"He's a heavyweight," said Scott Cleland, chief executive of the independent Precursor Group, a Washington-based research company. "His association is a real Big Foot."

The 17-year-old group of more than 300 companies and 112 million customers is battling this year for more relief from government. Wheeler is pushing to ease some U.S. rules and win airwaves needed to upgrade services and keep pace with customer demand. The group is ready to battle the U.S. military, which uses spectrum they want, and challenge the Federal Communications Commission to lift limits on control of airwaves.

New airwaves might boost industry revenue by $35 billion a year, according to a 2000 report by the Council of Economic Advisers. Advanced mobile services need more airwaves to let the carriers sell a single handset that is used as a phone, computer, television or fast Internet access device.

'More Spectrum'

"We have to get more spectrum," Wheeler told more than 30,000 attendees of his group's annual conference this week. Sitting on stage in a dark suit and red tie, Wheeler interviewed VoiceStream Wireless Corp. Chief Executive John Stanton, FCC Chairman Michael Powell, Yahoo Inc. co-founder Jerry Yang and other industry leaders about the need for additional airwaves.

The son of a Columbus, Ohio, salesman, Wheeler's philosophy is "to never take no for an answer," said Ron Nessen, a former White House press secretary and association spokesman who's known him 20 years. "I've heard Tom say, 'You can knock me down but you can't knock me out."'

Wheeler is accustomed to fights. From 1979 to 1984, as president of the National Cable Television Association, he battled the better-financed National Association of Broadcasters, which sought to thwart its TV rival.

Cable survived and, now led by AT&T Corp. and AOL Time Warner Inc., reached 67.8 percent of 102 million U.S. TV homes and generated $42.1 billion in revenue last year, the group said.

Friends, colleagues, lawmakers and regulators call Wheeler a skillful and fair lobbyist. His staff often is reminded that "doing things the way we did it last year is just an excuse for not thinking," Nessen said.

'Formidable Adversary'

Former FCC Chairman William Kennard, a Democrat, says Wheeler is a "formidable adversary." Kennard had opposed efforts by wireless carriers to ease all spectrum limits, a goal that may be easier to attain under Powell, a Republican who has expressed displeasure with such restrictions.

"He knows how to work the Hill, the press and the executive branch at all levels," Kennard said. "If he's not your ally on an issue he's tough."

Wheeler is steeped in U.S. Civil War battle history, thanks to his grandfather, and will transport anyone within earshot to grassy fields in Pennsylvania or rolling hills in Virginia to recount tactics use by generals more than 135 years ago.

"The give and take of leadership is timeless," said Wheeler, who wrote "Leadership Lessons from the Civil War" in 1999. "The absolute truth of history is that it's all happened before," he said as classical music from the radio filled his office and a TV flashed images from financial news network CNBC.

Military's Spectrum

Those lessons should be useful as the group tries to snap up U.S. Defense Department frequencies used to communicate and operate equipment. An international body designated those airwaves for new wireless services, and some nations set aside the frequencies for phone carriers.

U.S. companies such as Verizon Wireless and Cingular Wireless, the SBC Communications Inc.-BellSouth Corp. venture, want the same frequencies so customers can use a single handset anywhere. So far, the military has refused to step aside.

Wheeler is conciliatory. "We can't have this as an 'us and them" ' situation, he said. "We must find a way to work together."
The fight for spectrum is among several Wheeler issues this year. Other debates might emerge over issues such as privacy, driver safety and the health risks of cellular phones.
Wheeler takes it all in stride.

"I get to live at the vortex of changes in technology and changes in society," Wheeler said, sitting in a rocking chair resembling the model owned by President John F. Kennedy.

His office, on the eighth floor of a downtown Washington building, is filled with photographs of his wife, Carol, children Nicole and Max, politicians such as Vice President Al Gore and President Bill Clinton and mementos of his global travels.

"I can't think of a more exciting place to live."

[Original Source: aol://4344:30.bloombrg.389091.602536905]