On July 10, the FCC will vote on an order that will change the regulatory regime for the 2.5 GHz band, which was developed for educational TV for use in the schools, known as the Educational Broadband Service (EBS), according to a blog post by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. If approved, the order would auction the spectrum at 2.5 MHz in two blocks: one 100 megahertz and the other 16.5 megahertz in county-wide licenses.
“The new framework will not only give incumbent users more flexibility in how they use the spectrum, but also provide opportunities for Tribal Nations and others to obtain access to unused 2.5 GHz spectrum,” Chairman Pai wrote. “Making this valuable mid-band spectrum available for new mobile services will allow for more efficient and effective use of these airwaves and will advance U.S. leadership in 5G. My colleagues have expressed a strong interest in bringing mid-band spectrum to market, and this order represents a prime opportunity to do just that.”
The North American Catholic Educational Programming Foundation and Mobile Beacon quickly voiced their opposition to the draft order regarding the EBS, saying that it “strips away the educational core of the band, threatens the long-term sustainability of existing programs that serve more than 450,000 low-income and rural Americans.”
Voqal Says #SaveEBS
Voqal, which began in the mid-1980s by broadcasting educational video programs to schools, voiced its dismay with the FCC’s EBS plans, saying that will delay 5G and be harmful to students, schools and rural communities. It has begun the movement #SaveEBS.
“The draft order is downright harmful to students, schools and rural communities struggling to close the digital divide… [and] a radical policy shift that denies schools an opportunity to access spectrum necessary to deploy broadband,” said Voqal Director of Telecommunications Strategy, Mark Colwell. “Today’s draft order claims an auction of unused EBS – a situation the FCC created by failing to issue licenses for nearly a quarter century – will expedite 5G deployment. The truth is it will take years to finish licensing the band, delaying 5G and rural deployment.”
Voqal pointed to research that showed assigning EBS white space through priority windows to educational and tribal entities would do more to close the digital divide and homework gap than an EBS overlay auction, according to an ex parte letter to the commission.
“The persistent, pervasive digital divide in rural America is direct evidence that commercial providers, on their own, have not and will not address this problem. The reason commercial providers have failed to build out rural America is not because of a shortage of available commercial spectrum,” Voqal wrote.
Support from the Wireless Internet Service Providers
The Wireless Internet Service Provider Association (WISPA) voiced its support for the draft report and order, which it said eliminated outdated educational requirements.
“The 2.5 GHz band is particularly valuable due to the fact that it is the largest band of contiguous spectrum below 3 GHz, For a variety of reasons, however, it has gone largely unused,” the association wrote in a press release. “WISPA has advocated for changes that would bring the 2.5 GHz band up to date, promoting intensive use of both currently licensed EBS spectrum and new EBS spectrum licenses.
“The proposed changes by the FCC – chief among them being allowing EBS licensees to fully transfer their licenses to commercial providers; and the ability to bid for licenses on a county-wide basis – will make more efficient and effective use of these airwaves,” WISPA added.
WISPA voiced disappointment, however, that the spectrum would be auctioned in an “extremely large” block of 100 megahertz and a small block of 16.5 megahertz, and that the FCC is proposing to not allow bidding credits.
“The proposed auction design could therefore foreclose small providers from having a meaningful opportunity to acquire a sufficient amount of spectrum at auction,” WISPA said.