The Federal Communications Commission says it needs more time to identify and then auction off slices of the airwaves that can be used to give consumers the next generation of wireless services. The announcement means schools will have to wait a little longer before they learn whether a portion of the spectrum used for distance learning may be reallocated by the agency.

Companies are eager to get new airwaves licenses from the government, so they can deliver high-speed internet, video, and large amounts of data to consumers’ wireless phones and handheld devices.

The FCC has been working to locate frequencies that could be freed up for these new functions. But finding space on the heavily crowded air-bands has proved a major struggle for U.S. regulators. In addition to distance-learning programs, many of the Pentagon’s operations and some commercial businesses already operate in the coveted frequencies.

FCC officials have been directed to consider whether any of these existing services can be moved to other frequencies and were supposed to issue their final recommendations by July.

Congress had set September 2002 as the date for an auction of licenses for new wireless services. But in late June, FCC Chairman Michael Powell said the agency needed more time to finish its review of the options.

“I believe that the public interest would be best served by additional time for informed consideration, even if this results in some delay in reaching allocation decisions,” Powell wrote in a letter to Commerce Secretary Don Evans.

The nation’s top wireless lobbyist, Tom Wheeler, said the delay would allow the government to put greater thought into developing a plan for managing airwaves space. Such “management policy is crucial for wireless companies to make long-range plans based on their spectrum needs, saving them millions of dollars,” Wheeler said.