On March 7, the Schools, Health & Library Broadband Coalition (SHLB) hosted a Capitol Hill briefing titled “Window of Opportunity: How EBS Spectrum Can Close the Digital Divide.” The event featured a variety of speakers who have successfully implemented Educational Broadband Service (EBS) programs or who want access to new EBS licenses. Speakers included:

  • Moderator: John Windhausen Jr., Executive Director, SHLB Coalition
  • Katherine Messier, Director of Development, North American Catholic Educational Programming Foundation; Founder and Executive Director, Mobile Beacon
  • Gavin Leach, Vice President for Finance and Administration at Northern Michigan University
  • Mitchell Koep, Chief Executive Officer, A Better Wireless
  • SuAnn Witt, State E-Rate/Tech Project Coordinator, Nebraska Department of Education
  • Mariel Triggs, Chief Executive Officer, Mural Net

One highlight from the event was third-grade student Hannalou Cathey explaining what it is like for her and her classmates living without broadband access to do homework – what is known as the “homework gap.” Cathey represents the roughly 12 million students without access to broadband at home, perhaps the cruelest part of the digital divide in America.

EBS makes the affordable internet provided by Mobile Citizen possible and is the only spectrum band dedicated to educational use. Under Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules, educational licensees can either deploy their own networks or lease spectrum to commercial partners in exchange for service and/or cash royalties that help deliver their educational mission.

Now rural educators want the same opportunity to access EBS as their urban counterparts. Due to a licensing freeze in 1995, only half of the U.S. geography has access to EBS. The half that is already licensed covers roughly 85 percent of the population, while the unassigned portion of EBS is not available to roughly 15 percent or approximately 50 million Americans, mostly in rural areas.

Learn more about the event and how to engage with this important issue on the #makingairwaves blog.

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