TR Daily FCC Urged to Seek Further Comment in EBS Proceeding
Monday, May 13, 2019

FCC Urged to Seek Further Comment in EBS Proceeding

Proponents of educational broadband service (EBS) spectrum urged the FCC today to seek further comment in its EBS proceeding and defer action until the Commission and Justice Department have acted on the T-Mobile US, Inc.- Sprint Corp. merger. The request comes as advocates expect FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to circulate a draft order in the proceeding this week for consideration at the Commission’s June 6 meeting.

“The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (‘SHLB’), the North American Catholic Educational Programing Foundation, Inc. (‘NACEPF’), Mobile Beacon, Voqal, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (‘NDIA’) and Public Knowledge respectfully request that the Federal Communications Commission (‘FCC’ or ‘Commission’) issue a public notice requesting additional comment in the proceeding to transform the Educational Broadband Service (‘EBS’) and delay a decision in this proceeding until the Commission has an adequate record on which to base its decision,” the entities said in a letter filed in WT docket 18-120.

“We welcomed the FCC’s decision to undertake this proceeding, which has the potential to increase access to mid-band spectrum, accelerate broadband deployment — particularly in rural areas — and expand educational broadband benefits to more students, schools, anchor institutions, and communities. However, we are gravely concerned that the Commission may be moving forward with a decision when the record remains incomplete and the resolution of an integrally related proceeding remains uncertain,” the groups added.

“We have heard that the FCC may schedule a vote on this proceeding in early June that would radically change the direction proposed in the NPRM, eliminate the educational nature of this band, foreclose opportunities for new educational entities to finally get access to spectrum for which they have been waiting over two decades, and summarily overturn the long-standing educational mission and public interest benefits for this spectrum that was established over 50 years ago,” the letter continued. “A drastic change that eliminates education from EBS threatens to widen the homework gap, impair rural broadband deployment, and put existing levels of service at risk by eliminating any requirement for commercial operators to provide ongoing educational benefits through public-private partnerships with EBS licensees or otherwise.”

They added, “Although the docket has been open for one year, there are many central issues where there is currently an inadequate record. The Commission cannot reasonably move forward without seeking additional comment to ensure an adequate record on several key topics.”

The groups said that the FCC “should not act until it has the benefit of rigorous economic analysis on the impact of the alternatives proposed in the NPRM. In partnership with SHLB, Dr. Raul Katz has undertaken an economic study (the results of which will be public in a matter of days) specifically to analyze the economic impact and social benefits of making EBS spectrum available to educational entities through a priority window versus moving immediately to an auction. This report will be the only authentic economic analysis offered in the docket and will provide the Commission with key evidence comparing the costs and benefits of the two approaches for licensing unassigned EBS spectrum. Given that this is the central issue of how to move forward with the EBS spectrum that has remained unassigned for more than two decades — primarily in rural and underserved parts of the United States — the Commission must consider this analysis and seek comment on it before moving forward with its decision.”

They also complained that “the Commission has not made available to the public needed information about the current contours of existing EBS spectrum licenses and there is no reasonable way for the public to determine where EBS white space exists. The Commission’s own Universal Licensing System still does not properly reflect the license areas in accordance with the approach the Commission adopted fifteen years ago.”

“There is also insufficient information about current educational uses provided by EBS licensees,” according to the filing. “While there is ample evidence of robust educational and commercial benefits from all EBS licensees that filed comments in this proceeding, the Commission has collected no information from the vast majority of the nearly 1,300 licensees today since the last substantial service filing for EBS licensees in 2011— nearly a decade ago. The Commission cannot reasonably make a decision between priority windows for educational entities and a commercial auction for unassigned EBS spectrum without a thorough understanding of how existing EBS licensees are achieving both educational benefits and broadband deployment today.”

“Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Commission should not make decisions about the EBS rulemaking proceeding until the Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice resolve the uncertainty created by the pending transaction between Sprint and T-Mobile,” according to the groups. “We take no position in this filing with respect to how that transaction should be resolved. However, Sprint is currently the dominant operator in the EBS band by virtue of its lease arrangements with EBS licensees (a model long endorsed by the Commission). Some parties, for instance, have alleged that the merged company should be required to divest 2.5 GHz spectrum, which would include a certain number of EBS licenses. This could have a very significant impact on the educational institutions and students who are currently using these services.

“Additionally, it is not clear whether the merged parties — if allowed — will uphold existing EBS lease agreements or how that may impact EBS licensees and their end users going forward. Whatever the Commission and the Department of Justice decide with respect to the transaction, that decision has the potential to affect a number of critical issues raised in this rulemaking proceeding,” the filing continued. “Continued uncertainty around the transaction, for example, makes it difficult to evaluate the impact of immediately eliminating educational eligibility requirements on those that currently rely on internet service from an EBS licensee. The transaction also has material implications on the functioning and outcome of any EBS auction. Only once the transaction proceeding is resolved will interested stakeholders and, more importantly, the Commission, have the certainty needed to evaluate these impacts and determine the best path for the rulemaking.”

The FCC adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking last year to consider steps to free up unused EBS spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band for commercial services. The item has drawn concern from EBS licensees (TR Daily, May 10, 2018).- Paul Kirby, [email protected]

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