Senate committee approves wireless spectrum bill

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved a bill that sets a 2008 deadline for clearing broadcasters from wireless spectrum promised to public safety agencies.

In a roll call vote, committee members approved the Save Lives Act introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the committee's chairman. The measure would require the Federal Communications Commission to remove broadcasters from 24 megahertz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band that Congress promised to first responders in 1997.

Emergency personnel will use the spectrum to communicate with one another, because the low frequency can travel through walls. A variety of broadcasters have been using the spectrum, including Paxson Communications Corp. and a number of Spanish broadcasters.

Before the vote, the committee adopted two amendments:

* A proposal by Sens. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) to suspend the deadline in cases where the move would cause "consumer disruption." Critics of the amendment say that language offers a loophole that severely weakens the bill.

* An amendment by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) to require the FCC to publish minimum quantitative guidelines for local programming.

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