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House panel to meet on spectrum bill December 1

by

By Jasmin Melvin

(Reuters) - A bill to create a wireless network for public safety and make more airwaves available to bandwidth-hungry communications companies, will be considered by a House of Representatives committee next week.

The communications subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee has scheduled a December 1 meeting on the legislation that is partly aimed at meeting the booming demand for mobile devices.

Announcement of the bill markup follows a failed attempt by the congressional debt "super committee" to agree on a plan to reduce the budget deficit.

Many had hoped the 12-member panel would address the airwaves issue because of the billions of dollars in revenue it could generate through the auction of spectrum.

"Spectrum legislation is a longstanding priority for both parties and a key element of our pro-jobs strategy," subcommittee chairman Greg Walden said in a statement.

Details of the bill will not be available until Tuesday, a committee spokeswoman said. Walden said the measure would "create thousands of jobs, establish an interoperable public safety network, and reduce the deficit."

Previous draft bills have included language giving the Federal Communications Commission authority to auction some airwaves currently held by television broadcasters. Estimates of the proceeds are for as much as $28 billion.

Some auction proceeds would go to broadcasters giving up spectrum and some would help fund the construction and maintenance of a wireless public safety network. The remaining money would go toward cutting the budget deficit.

A national communications system for first responders was a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, but has still not been achieved a decade after hijacked airliners killed nearly 3,000 people.

The FCC's National Broadband Plan calls for repurposing 120 megahertz of TV spectrum for wireless use, and wireless companies have been clamoring for the opportunity to buy airwaves currently used for free, over-the-air TV signals.

Some 25 million Americans already watch video on smartphones and tablet computers like Apple Inc's iPad, putting 120 times more demand on spectrum than older mobile phones.

Wireless carriers like AT&T Inc and Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc, have warned of a looming spectrum crunch that would mean clogged networks, more dropped calls and slower connection speeds for wireless customers.

But broadcasters have expressed concerns over the unintended consequences that repurposing their spectrum could have on their TV signals and the 46 million viewers that still rely on over-the-air TV.

(Reporting by Jasmin Melvin in Washington D.C.; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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