FCC’s proposed update to EBS rules prompts comments from public media

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Public broadcasters are urging the FCC to recognize the importance of educational broadband spectrum as commissioners ponder regulatory updates that would allow licensees greater flexibility with the bandwidth.

Some 50 public broadcasters hold EBS licenses to use spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band for educational services and other purposes. The FCC asked for comments on its proposals to modernize its rules for EBS spectrum this spring. The first comment filing window closed last week.

Currently, licensees may lease up to 95 percent of EBS spectrum to commercial users, retaining 5 percent for educational purposes. The FCC has proposed a wide range of options, such as allowing EBS licensees to sell to other parties without restricting how buyers use the bandwidth; giving stations incentives to dedicate more bandwidth to wireless broadband, perhaps through a spectrum auction; and allowing educational institutions, tribal nations and other entities to acquire new licenses.

America’s Public Television Stations and CPB filed comments Wednesday reminding the commission of the value of EBS. In a statement issued with the comments, APTS President Pat Butler pointed to the success of several EBS licensees in providing “essential educational services to their local communities,” some dating to the 1970s. He cited stations including Vegas PBS, which delivers instructional content on six digital channels to schools with 320,000 students and 18,000 teachers.

Butler also pointed to public TV licensee Northern Michigan University in Marquette. It developed an EBS-based wireless system to cover the state’s rural Upper Peninsula, “including areas otherwise unserved or underserved by broadband providers.”

The university also filed comments Wednesday detailing that work. Its WiMax network, launched in 2009, “was so successful that it drew a visit to campus from President Obama in February 2011,” according to the filing.

“NMU believes that if given a green-light, educators nationwide will seize the chance they’ve been waiting for to construct new EBS-based wireless networks to serve learners of all ages and their communities,” the filing said.

EBS “has a long history as an educational asset,” said another public broadcaster, the Utah Educational and Telehealth Network, in its filing Tuesday. The Salt Lake City–based network noted that “the need for all students to have access to online resources has grown and will only continue to grow. Network access is crucial for rural and urban high-need students and their families.”

Native Public Media, an association representing tribal media organizations, also weighed in with comments. It endorsed the FCC’s proposal to open a filing window exclusively for tribes and tribal governments to apply for EBS licenses, and suggested that the commission prioritize their filings to acknowledge “lack of access to communications services on Tribal lands.”

Reply comments are due Sept. 7.

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