Congress Expresses Concern with the FCC’s Recent EBS Rulemaking

July 17, 2019

In yesterday’s House Communications Subcommittee hearing, a handful of members expressed frustration with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about their recent decision to strip education from the Educational Broadband Service (EBS) spectrum band. This comes as no surprise, as over a dozen members of Congress, the Western Governors Association and the Trump Administration’s own Department of Education urged the FCC to allow rural educators an opportunity to apply for new licenses. The FCC ignored all these pleas in its race to eliminate education from EBS.

In his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle expressed frustration:

“You know, it’s a strange day when Democrats agree with Secretary DeVos about education policy. But many of us here are concerned that the FCC’s recent order regarding Educational Broadband Service effectively stripped the education purpose and benefit from the band.”

A few moments later, Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone echoed this concern in his opening remarks:

“It seems that, as a nation, we are somehow unable to cobble together a coherent policy for managing our airwaves. Right now there is a leadership vacuum. And I’m concerned that too few people in our government understand that our agencies’ spectrum needs must be coordinated, and the government must speak with one voice. A few years ago, Congress, the FCC and the NTIA were working hard to keep the mobile economy moving forward. That’s not the case anymore. Today, the Trump FCC goes one way, the Commerce Department and NTIA go another. Then you have other departments throughout the federal government, like the Departments of Transportation, Education and Defense voicing their own opinions about how spectrum should be used. This lack of coordination affects a mind-numbing list of important bands of spectrum. In my opinion, the process has completely broken down.”

Committee Ranking Member Greg Walden also pointed out the lack of coordination by the FCC and Administration when it comes to spectrum policy. That could be in part due to various comments from the Department of Commerce, Department of Education, NOAA, NTIA and other agencies have expressed about various spectrum bands.

“The conflict going on in the administration right now on this matter is a bit troubling. We all know we had a good NTIA director in place, and things were going swimmingly, and then they weren’t. I’ll express my dissatisfaction with what’s happening as well out of Commerce and elsewhere.”

Later in the hearing, Representative Bill Johnson of Ohio asked FCC Chief of the Office of Engineering & Technology, Julius Knapp, why the FCC did not include rural educator windows:

“I was a little bit disappointed – well, a lot disappointed actually – to see last week that there was not a priority window included for rural educators using EBS licenses as part of the FCC’s order on the 2.5 GHz band. How will the new rules for the 2.5 GHz band spectrum benefit rural areas? And is there a strategy for using 2.5 GHz band spectrum to bridge the digital divide?”

Knapp responded that this was “certainly a policy call, not a technical issue.” Dissatisfied with the response, Rep. Johnson pressed Knapp:

“But if we could do a carve-out for Tribal Nations which have the same problem that rural America does as far as the urban-rural divide, why wasn’t there a carve out for those licenses in rural America?”

After Knapp attempted to explain how the new rules might encourage investment, his response was met with skepticism from Rep. Johnson, who closed by expressing his frustration:

“I wish I shared your optimism that that investment is going to come [to rural America] because we have been talking about the rural-urban divide now for almost 9 years since I came in in 2011 and in spite of the amount of money we’ve put into it, I can tell you in Appalachia, we’re not seeing a lot of progress on the ground.”

Later, Panel II of the hearing featured a variety of industry representatives, including MuralNet CEO Mariel Triggs, whose nonprofit organization helps connect Tribal Nations using EBS and other spectrum. She emphasized the importance of EBS for expanding broadband access in rural America:

“EBS spectrum is the perfect band for starting a rural wireless Internet network. A signal in this range has great propagation and penetration characteristics throughput. Since licenses are required, the networks have a guarantee of reliable operations without worry of interference that unlicensed spectrum has. And licenses are free for schools and nonprofits.”

In response to the points brought up in yesterday’s hearing, Voqal’s Director of Telecommunications Strategy, Mark Colwell, made the following statement:

“Today’s hearing is further demonstration that the FCC is ignoring Congress when it comes to EBS and the 2.5 GHz band. Despite over 14 members of Congress and the Department of Education expressing concerns, the Commission abruptly changed direction from their draft proposal and denied these local communities an opportunity to get access to this unique spectrum band.

Rural educators waited for over 24 years for the FCC to give them an opportunity, but the FCC is doubling down on the failed all-spectrum-must-be-auctioned mentality that has left rural Americans on the wrong side of the digital divide. Commercial carriers already control over 625 MHz of spectrum in the same rural areas, yet services aren’t being delivered. Voqal shares Representative Johnson’s skepticism that magically making more spectrum available to commercial carriers is going to lead to better results. They already have spectrum – what they lack is the commitment.”

Questions about the future of EBS? Contact Mark Colwell at