NACEPF and Mobile Beacon Statement Regarding Hill Briefing, “Windows of Opportunity: How EBS Spectrum Can Close the Digital Divide”

“I thank the SHLB Coalition for organizing this briefing to educate our policymakers about the ways Educational Broadband Service (EBS) is being used today to provide much-needed broadband access to anchor institutions, students, low-income families, and rural Americans.

Today, EBS remains the only licensed spectrum available for educational institutions to connect their communities. In areas where EBS has been licensed, EBS licensees are connecting tens of thousands of schools, libraries, and other anchor institutions, and through them, millions of students and families not served by commercial broadband offers. However, for over 20 years, the FCC has not made EBS spectrum available in nearly 50% of the U.S., mostly in rural communities.

Now that the FCC has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Transforming the 2.5 GHz Band, this previously unlicensed EBS spectrum will finally be made available. Chairman Pai has proposed granting priority windows for educators and Tribal Nations to apply for unlicensed EBS spectrum. Unfortunately, others at the Commission are proposing auctioning EBS to commercial entities that already have access to over 600 MHz of spectrum below 3 GHz, but are not serving these same mostly rural areas. The Commission is also considering removing educational eligibility and use requirements that are critical to delivering educational benefits, which jeopardizes the sustainability of existing programs and levels of service that EBS licensees provide today.

At a time when broadband access for education has never been more vital to how we learn and communicate, the costs of being disconnected have never been higher. Spectrum policy matters—particularly for rural Americans and others who fall on the wrong side of the digital divide. The persistent, digital divide in both urban and rural America is evidence that commercial providers, on their own, have not and will not close the digital divide.

When it comes to closing the digital divide and homework gap, there is no silver bullet. E-rate funding stops short of providing connectivity to students at home. Most commercial providers are opting not to participate in Lifeline, and commercial programs such as Internet Essentials are helpful but will not reach everyone. We need our policymakers to ensure diverse spectrum policies that bring multiple stakeholders together and drive multiple approaches and solutions to reach the unserved. Otherwise, we will lose one of the most effective tools we have to close the digital divide.”

– Katherine Messier, Director of Development for NACEPF and Founder and Executive Director of Mobile Beacon, is a panelist at Windows of Opportunity: How EBS Spectrum Can Close the Digital Divide.

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