WASHINGTON-Top government officials, setting the stage for a showdown with Europe, said the United States likely will support multiple third-generation wireless proposals to the International Telecommunications Union in June unless a compromise can be reached soon by U.S. industry on a single standard.

“If U.S. industry reached a consensus on a single standard, it could be in the industry’s interest for the U.S. government to support that standard in the ITU,” said Charlene Barshefsky, U.S. trade representative. “Without such a consensus, however, the risk of eliminating innovative technologies might be greater than the benefits of a single standard.”

Barshefsky was responding to questions on 3G recently posed to USTR and other federal agencies by Rep. Connie Morella, chairwoman of the House Science subcommittee on technology.

The subcommittee is considering holding a hearing on 3G wireless in June.

Morella took interest in the issue after being informed that U.S. wireless manufacturers risked being edged out of the global phone market if a single European 3G standard, backed by Sweden’s L.M. Ericsson and Finland’s Nokia Corp., prevailed in the international standards-setting process.

“The primary interest of the United States in the selection of standards is to ensure that the selection process is open, objective and transparent, and that U.S. firms have a fair opportunity for their standards to be considered,” said Bill Richardson, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

While U.S. policy appears somewhat confused and held hostage because of the industry’s inability to agree on a single 3G standard here, officials do not want U.S. competitiveness abroad to suffer as a result.

But they fear that is exactly what could happen as a result under a European system that the Clinton administration considers biased toward its home-grown wireless equipment suppliers.

“The commission does not believe that the European standards process is as open as the U.S. process,” said Bill Kennard, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. “As a result, we do not believe that American companies have the same influence in the development of European standards as European-based companies have in the development of U.S. standards.”

Larry Irving, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said European Telecommunications Standards Institute standards are only valid after acceptance from the European Commission. “This ensures that European government interests are fulfilled. In this process, industry and government interests are made to coincide.”

John Libonati, executive assistant to the director of the U.S. Secret Service, offered no positions on the 3G debate but said experience shows “that virtually no technology is resistant to fraudulent activity.”

Barry Smith, an FBI lobbyist, used responses to 3G questions from Morella as an opportunity to remind the lawmaker of the agency’s public-safety responsibilities under the 1994 digital wiretap law.


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