Spectrum bill advances out of committee

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It also authorizes incentive spectrum auctions, a top priority of the Federal Communications Commission, that would repurpose TV airwaves to wireless companies. That policy is strongly backed by tech and cell service companies.

During the markup, detractors focused on what they see as the unnecessarily high costs of building the network through the approach in the bill, which gives away spectrum to public safety agencies rather than auctioning it to commercial providers, who could then share their networks with emergency groups. Those who voted against the bill described it as a squandered opportunity to reduce the deficit through auction revenue.

Proponents said the bill ensures that first responders can talk to each other in times of emergency, such as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. They framed it as an important way of preventing failures of communication during such attacks and argued that an auction of a key swath of spectrum would not grant first responders enough capacity to ensure their safety.

Opposition from House Energy and Commerce members in both parties could mean the bill faces an uphill path to final passage. Nevertheless, Republicans on the House Homeland Security Committee strongly support the central proposal in the bill.

Updated at 2:04 p.m.