Forget about the Tom and Wayne Show. Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association President Tom Wheeler and American Personal Communications Chairman Wayne Schelle stopped feuding a while ago; they’re now buddies on the same side.
Welcome to the Tom and Jim Show! Wheeler and Jim Valentine, the point man for Hear-It Now, have been trading barbs in recent weeks over the latter’s quixotic campaign to have GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) wireless phones investigated for potential interference to the 4 million hearing aid users in the United States.
Comments will be filed at the Federal Communications Commission on the issue next Monday. Valentine plans to show how GSM phones interfere with hearing aids at the National Press Club this week, and will conduct similar demonstrations on Capitol Hill in the near future. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., has called for congressional hearings. This thing is about to explode.
Wheeler, who normally thrives on Washington-style fights, would probably have rather avoided this brawl. Not because he’s shy about knocking heads with Valentine. Hardly. But, engaging Valentine draws attention to the issue. That is the last thing CTIA and the Personal Communications Industry Association want.
CTIA still smarts from the national publicity that blindsided it two-and-a-half years ago when a Florida man claimed a cellular phone contributed to the brain cancer that killed his wife. His lawsuit was dismissed in May.
Wheeler knows the issue is a ticking time-bomb, little different than the cancer scare or recent concerns raised about GSM phones interfering with cardiac pacemakers. It matters little what the facts are or aren’t. Just the mention of a potential public health risk is all that’s needed to send stocks down and business executives through the roof.
In the past, Wheeler has been able to quell the furor by getting the cellular industry to throw many millions of dollars at University of Oklahoma research. He tried to co-opt Valentine with the same pitch, but it hasn’t worked. Valentine is not going away. (Hearing impaired organizations let themselves be adopted by Valentine because they knew they’d get more attention that way.)
GSM, a form of Time Division Multiple Access technology, is used widely throughout Europe. Some U.S. firms have opted for GSM because equipment is available today.
Code Division Multiple Access, or CDMA, is the technology of choice of North American Wireless, a Vienna, Va.-based firm headed by Valentine that is allied with AT&T Corp. to build PCS systems for winners of next month’s entrepreneur block auction.
PCS PrimeCo L.P. is going the same route, even though CDMA phones are not so easy to come by right now. But at least they don’t disrupt hearing aids, claims Valentine, who makes no bones about wanting to protect his investment.
Ironically, each side is accusing the other of the same thing-exploiting the issue for commercial gain-and each is bringing about a result-publicity-that both want to avoid.
But with Valentine keeping the controversy in the public spotlight, Wheeler realized he had to abandon the low-key approach taken until now by CTIA and continued by PCIA.
“It’s going to be a big battle,” says Valentine, perhaps oblivious to his own understatement.