How EBS Can End the Homework Gap and Close the Digital Divide
April 12, 2019


 

By Alicja Johnson

“Imagine that your child, or grandchild, came home from their school one night with an assignment of studying for a science test on a website called Quizzes. Now imagine how frustrated you and that child would feel if no Internet access was available to you in your home.”

Read aloud by 9-year-old Hannalou Cathey from Battle Lake, Minnesota at SHLB’s recent Congressional briefing, these words define a common concern facing the estimated 162.8 million Americans who don’t have broadband Internet at home. Fortunately, the SHLB Coalition is working with the FCC on an answer to this problem.

The SHLB Coalition recently hosted “Window of Opportunity: How EBS Can Close the Digital Divide” on Capitol Hill to show lawmakers the many ways that organizations and anchor institutions could address the digital divide through the Educational Broadband Service (EBS). EBS is a portion of 2.5 GHz spectrum that was licensed to educational institutions in roughly half the United States, up until a 1995 licensing freeze. In May of 2018, the FCC launched a proceeding to finish licensing this spectrum to educational institutions and rural Tribal Nations, but some parties have opposed this proposal.
 
Organizations Connecting Communities with EBS
 
Until the FCC proceeding is resolved, rural wireless broadband using EBS is stuck in neutral. However, several speakers at SHLB’s event shared how they might – and in some cases, already do – connect their communities to high-quality broadband.
 

Mobile Beacon

Katherine Messier serves as executive director of Mobile Beacon and director of development for the North American Catholic Educational Programming Foundation (NACEPF), the second largest EBS licensee in the U.S. NACEPF leases its spectrum to Mobile Beacon, who uses it to connect anchors and nonprofits at an affordable rate of $10 per month.
 

“In my experience as an EBS licensee who leases their spectrum, I can tell you that one of the greatest strengths of EBS is that it’s the only remaining portion on the only remaining spectrum band that can deliver robust commercial and educational benefits,” Messier noted in her remarks.

Northern Michigan University

As Vice President for Finance and Administration at Northern Michigan University (NMU), Gavin Leach is an expert on the university’s Educational Access Network (EAN), which serves the Upper Peninsula (UP) with high-capacity broadband. In 2008, knowing that two-thirds of NMU students live off-campus and 25 percent of the UP lacked Internet access, the school acquired an EBS license for an initial WiMAX community broadband network that would serve students and faculty.

As the EAN grew, the school began serving UP residents too, and the growth hasn’t stopped there. In November 2017, EAN broadband was connecting 27 rural communities. By this December it will cover 114 communities, connecting over 60,000 K-16 students and lifelong learners.

Nebraska Department of Education
 

Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) State E-rate Coordinator and Technology Project Coordinator SuAnn Witt led her presentation with an upsetting truth for her state: “Inequity of access to digital resources is having a detrimental effect on daily educational opportunities,” she explained. But Witt and her Nebraska colleagues have a plan to change that.

When the FCC opened the ongoing EBS proceeding, NDE partnered with Nebraska Educational Television and the State Office of the CIO to develop a proposal that would blanket the state with wireless broadband. Using existing state-leased and state-owned towers, and fiber backhaul to the state’s education backbone, NDE and partners can achieve their goal of connecting any learner at any time he or she needs it. However, the plan is on hold until the FCC makes EBS licenses available.

Mural Net

Mariel Triggs is the CEO of Mural Net, a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit dedicated to helping tribal institutions deploy and maintain their own networks. Triggs emphasizes that “the time is now” for self-deployed and managed networks – all it takes is a little tech savvy. And more spectrum.

Mural Net’s pilot program for the Havasupai Nation is a perfect example of EBS’ ability to connect the populations that are hardest to reach. Situated in the depths of the Grand Canyon, the Havasupai Nation can only be reached by 8-mile hike or helicopter ride. Nonetheless, in only half a day, Triggs’ team deployed a network the Nation is able to manage itself. Just like Witt and NDE, the only hangup was gaining access to an EBS license.

A Better Wireless

Mitchell Koep is CEO of A Better Wireless (ABW), a family-owned Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) based in Ottertail County, Minnesota. With EBS, his WISP-in-a-Box equipment could provide Internet to his entire community in partnership with schools. This would particularly benefit students enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program, whom ABW would serve at an affordable rate of $15 per month.

Koep is also the proud grandfather of Hannalou, who read aloud a letter to lawmakers describing her experience with the homework gap. Many of Hannalou’s classmates at Battle Lake Elementary School share her experience, and Koep is determined to change that for them.

Hannalou left audience-members with a powerful call to action: “You have the ability to help these families get Internet access, and my grandpa has a solution that will make this happen, not just for us but for all of Minnesota, with his WISP-in-a-Box. My grandpa and our school needs EBS to get this done.”

To learn more about EBS and how you can help students like Hannalou, visit saveebs.org.
 

Watch event recording | Download speaker slides



back to shlb news