WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC), U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), and members of the House Task Force on Rural Broadband sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai urging his agency to reverse its decision to eliminate education requirements for the Educational Broadband Service (EBS).

EBS’ origins date back to 1960 when then-Senator John F. Kennedy envisioned educational television as having the ability to reach many people throughout the nation. As a result of his vision, the Instructional Fixed Television Service (IFTS) was created to distribute licenses to educational institutions that promised to deliver instructional television services to schools. In 2004, IFTS was renamed and reimagined to EBS to encourage the use of broadband for educational purposes. Today, nearly ten thousand schools, libraries, nonprofits, and other anchor institutions across the country are connected to the internet in places where EBS is licensed.

While the FCC’s decision establishes a priority filing window for Tribal Nations—which is positive – striking the educational requirements for EBS will be especially harmful to rural communities across the country.

“Too many communities across the country are in digital desserts and the rural areas that do have access to high speed internet, the service is often unreliable, unaffordable, and too slow,” said House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn. “EBS provides millions of rural Americans access to the internet and the FCC’s decision to eliminate education requirements for EBS only exacerbates the rural-urban digital divide. High-speed internet access is essential to education, health care and employment in rural communities. Without connectivity, rural households will continue to be left behind.”

“EBS has connected millions of Americans, particularly in rural areas, and they are able to start businesses, connect with family and friends, apply for jobs, and complete their homework,” said Meng. “The FCC’s decision to gut the educational requirements for EBS is a step backwards and will make it harder for rural Americans to access the internet. I want to thank House Majority Whip Clyburn for establishing the Task Force on Rural Broadband whose mission is to end the rural-digital divide. If Chairman Pai seriously wants to close the digital divide, he will reverse the EBS decision.”

The House Task Force on Rural Broadband provides coordination and leadership to end the rural-digital divide. The Task Force works to advance solutions to ensure all Americans have access to high-speed internet by 2025. The Task Force consults with key stakeholders, including rural advocates, market participants, local governments, and Administration officials to develop strategies to eliminate digital deserts and ensure rural Americans can thrive in the 21st century information economy.

A copy of the correspondence is below and can be found here.

 

July 29, 2019

 

The Honorable Ajit Pai

Chairman

Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street SW

Washington, DC 20554

 

Dear Chairman Pai:

We write to express our strong disapproval of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) elimination of the educational requirements for the Educational Broadband Service (EBS) in the Report and Order entitled “Transforming the 2.5 GHz Band,” which will result in the auctioning of unassigned licenses from EBS to commercial carriers. While there are elements of the FCC’s action that benefit Tribal Nations—which we support—the disregard for the longstanding educational purposes of the 2.5 GHz spectrum is troubling and ill-advised. As Members of the House Majority Whip’s Task Force on Rural Broadband, we urge you to reverse this decision.

EBS originated with President John F. Kennedy’s vision that television could be a transformational medium to educate Americans. From that vision, the Instructional Fixed Television Service (ITFS) was created and allowed the distribution of licenses to educational institutions that delivered instructional services to schools. In 2004, ITFS was rebranded to EBS and expanded the potential of this spectrum to encourage deployment of educational broadband. Today, millions of Americans—particularly those who reside in rural areas—have access to the internet because of this creative vision.

However, the rural-urban digital divide remains and has enormous consequences for our children and future generations. A recent Pew Research Report found 35 percent of lower-income households with school-age children did not have a broadband internet connection at home. This gap has consequences for rural America and will exacerbate the homework gap, high school dropout rates, and the health of rural economies.

The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition recently published a report that found licensing unassigned space to commercial entities over educators and nonprofits will have meager economic and social benefits.[1] Specifically, the study found “…compelling evidence in support of a policy that extends and modernizes the current licensing regime, which recognizes a preference for tribes and educational institutions.”[2] Such modernization of the EBS system would have increased LTE penetration, created jobs, and reduced the homework gap across rural America.

It is imperative that we rigorously pursue all options that reduce the rural-urban digital divide. The FCC’s decision to gut EBS’ education requirements is a step in the wrong direction; we implore you to reverse this decision.

Let’s work together to close the digital divide in this great nation.

Sincerely,

Grace Meng

Member of Congress

James E. Clyburn

House Majority Whip

TJ Cox

Member of Congress

Ro Khanna

Member of Congress

Cindy Axne

Member of Congress

 

 

[1] Raul Katz and Fernando Callorda, “The Economic Benefit of Keeping the “E” in EBS: A Comparison of Licensing Unassigned EBS to Educators and Nonprofits vs. Commercial Auctions,” Telecom Advisory Services, June 2019, http://www.shlb.org/uploads/Policy/Policy%20Research/SHLB%20Research/SHLB%20EBS%20Economic%20Study.pdf

[2] Ibid., 5.