The Republican bill would authorize the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to auction spectrum that currently belongs to television broadcasters, splitting some of the revenue with the stations that choose to participate. The spectrum is potentially worth billions of dollars to wireless carriers, which are struggling to meet the growing data demands of smartphones and tablet computers.
The bill also allocates the D block of spectrum to build a public-safety broadband network. The wireless network would allow first-responders to communicate using video and other data during emergencies and would help officials from different agencies communicate with one another.
The Democrats support those provisions, but criticized the Republican bill for allowing the states to build the public-safety network, rather than giving the authority to a national nonprofit group.
In their letter, Waxman and Eshoo also said the bill should have allowed the FCC to set aside more spectrum for unlicensed use, which would allow several companies to share spectrum bands but would not generate additional government revenue.
The Republican bill creates a $3 billion fund to pay for costs that television broadcasters can incur as they move to new airwaves. The Democrats questioned whether that figure is too generous.
—This post was updated at 2:52 p.m.