2019 Annual Report Spotlight: Building a Movement to Protect the Public Airwaves

We continue our look back at 2019 with another spotlight from our FY 2019 Annual Report: Build the Movement. This week’s article is focused on the work of Voqal and its partners in the Educational Broadband Service (EBS) community to build a movement aimed at keeping the EBS spectrum band educational.

Public airwaves – or spectrum – are a critical resource that contribute to the public good. Spectrum provides public radio and television, weather and entertainment satellite services, and increasingly, broadband service to many Americans.

As advocates for digital equity, Voqal continued its work this year to encourage policies that help extend affordable connectivity to all Americans and to protect public airwaves for the public good. Unfortunately, many of the important programs that support affordable access, competition and education are under attack by the current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) majority.

In May 2018, the FCC initiated a rulemaking to radically change the very nature of Educational Broadband Service (EBS). As a collaboration of EBS licensees, Voqal was concerned that this rulemaking had the potential to damage this vital public resource. Rather than sit back and let EBS become yet another piece of privatized spectrum, we decided to engage in the advocacy battle of a lifetime to preserve EBS frequencies for the benefit of education and the public.

As director of telecommunications strategy, Mark Colwell put it, “America needs more tools to ensure connectivity for all. Simply auctioning every spectrum band has not and will not close the digital divide.”

Voqal worked tirelessly to help inform Congress and the public of the dangers posed by eliminating education from EBS. Voqal developed SaveEBS.org, a website of EBS education and advocacy resources meant to give everyday citizens the tools needed to advocate for keeping EBS educational. In addition, we sponsored multiple educational briefings for congressional staff aimed at letting them know about the importance of this issue. Voqal, along with its partners in the EBS community, met with dozens of members of Congress in order to ensure they were aware of how important this public resource is to everyday citizens.

And all of these efforts had results.

Fourteen members of Congress wrote to the FCC to express their support for saving this valuable resource. In addition, the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to the FCC asking them to keep EBS educational. Lastly, a movement of over 850 groups and individuals signed an EBS support letter letting the FCC know that auctioning off EBS would be a grave mistake.

Unfortunately, as often happens in the realm of public policy, the FCC chose to ignore the will of the people in favor of greedy corporate interests. While we may have lost the battle, Voqal is dedicated to protecting public goods like EBS and will continue to work at encouraging government bodies like the FCC to recognize that our public airwaves should be preserved for the people, not corporations.

Learn more about Voqal’s work in FY 2019 by reading the full annual report.