Telecommunications Policy Update: EBS Gains National Media Attention

May 31, 2019

In this month’s telecommunications policy update, Voqal’s Mark Colwell highlights the recent national attention that EBS has been receiving. 

As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) inches closer to a suspected draft Report and Order regarding Educational Broadband Service (EBS) in the coming weeks, a growing number of media outlets have published stories about EBS and its potential to serve the hardest to reach Americans with broadband for the first time.

Perhaps the most prominent story comes from NPR.   Published on Wednesday, the story features Northern Michigan University and how it has used EBS to deliver broadband. As the story notes:

“Fast forward to three months ago when [broadband] went live in the tiny town of Engadine. That meant anyone living within nine miles of the local school got Internet service for only $20 to $35 a month. Engadine Schools Superintendent Angie McArthur says that’s a big deal because before, Internet service could cost nearly double that.

ANGIE MCARTHUR: Our student body is about – we have about 65% percent who qualify for free and reduced meals, so spending a large amount of a monthly income doesn’t work.”

The low-cost offerings are one reason why a recent SHLB economic study concluded that licensing unassigned EBS licenses to educators would be better than simply auctioning the unassigned spectrum. The initial findings of the report show that licensing to educators (as opposed to selling EBS licenses via auctions) would result in a greater reduction in the digital divide and homework gap, a larger increase in GDP and a greater improvement in high school graduation rates. THE Journal featured the preliminary findings of this economic analysis. As they report:

“According to the study, assigning the remaining EBS licenses to educators would result in a 29.6 reduction in the homework gap, which amounts to connecting 196,000 children to broadband. Auctioning off the spectrum to commercial providers would result in a 1.13 percent reduction in the reduction of the homework gap.”

In addition, Bloomberg Law’s Jon Reid authored a story highlighting why educators can put this spectrum to better use than national telecommunications providers. One reason is the lack of density makes it hard to get a return on investment. As Voqal’s Mark Colwell says in the story:

“There isn’t a business case for commercial providers to build broadband infrastructure in remote places where there are few customers.”

While the commercial sector may be reluctant to serve remote, rural areas, there are nonprofits and educators who are hungry to deliver service. In yet another story, Law360’s Kelce Griffiths explores how Mural Net, a nonprofit supporting Tribal Nations, was able to deliver broadband to the Havasupai Tribe at the base of the Grand Canyon.

“It’s not like it’s cost prohibitive. The tech is actually trivial,” [Mural Net CEO Mariel Triggs] said, noting that the bill for the tribe’s first wave of broadband equipment was about $12,000. “What we’re finding is [that] this is really a policy issue about spectrum.”

Two other stories featured the amazing story of Mural Net, including the Seattle Times just one day before the FCC granted the Havasupai a permanent waiver to operate on EBS frequencies. Finally, the day after the FCC granted the wavier, Fox News published this story, crediting the FCC for enabling the Mural Net project.

Regardless of who gets the credit, EBS has proven to be a success story where it is licensed. Now we just need the FCC to allow educators to apply for the remaining unassigned EBS spectrum to enable even more success in the hardest to reach places in America.

For information on EBS and to learn how you can help #SaveEBS for education visit