The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rejected a plan that would allow schools to sell their airwave licenses, but it agreed to restructure the spectrum band to allow schools and others to deploy digital, wireless broadband.

Commissioners, at their open meeting June 10, also voted to retain existing rules for educational spectrum, including schools’ ability to rent the spectrum for profit. Eligibility for the spectrum, known as Instructional Television Fixed Service (ITFS), would also remain limited to educational institutions.

“We resolve once and for all ITFS license eligibility. ITFS licenses are and will continue to be reserved for educators,” Commissioner Michael J. Copps said. “Uncertainty in all these matters has created a confusing environment for way too long and has held back needed investment. Now 1,275 ITFS licenses in 70,000 locations have the stability they need to make the most of the spectrum.”

(See FCC would let schools auction off ed spectrum; June 1, 2003.)

A leading education advocate applauded the FCC’s decision.

“We’re completely delighted. It’s a vindication that ITFS is an education resource and it will stay there,” said Leslie Harris, president of Leslie Harris & Associates, which lobbied for the issue on behalf of 17 education groups, including the American Association of School Administrators, Consortium for School Networking, and Council of Chief State School Officers.

“There are going to be significant changes that ITFS license holders will need to understand,” Harris warned. For example, to reap the benefits of this revised spectrum, schools will need to work with companies to build, and even pay for, new technology-based education services that don’t even exist yet.

“Schools in this spectrum will not be able to do this without commercial partners and knowing their rights and rules of the spectrum,” Harris said. “Many companies will come to [schools] with proposals. [Educators] are going to have to be much more savvy.”

Maximizing efficient use of the spectrum and deploying broadband services to all Amercians were the FCC’s goals in adopting the Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that changes the rules for the 2495-2690 MHz Band.

The new spectrum plan eliminates interference caused by overlapping channels and creates distinct band segments for high-power operations, such as one-way video transmission, and low power operations–two-way fixed and mobile broadband applications, for instance.

“By grouping high- and low-power users into separate portions of the band, the new band plan reduces the likelihood of interference caused by incompatible uses and creates incentives for the development of low power, cellularized broadband operations, which were inhibited by the prior band,” an FCC statement said.

The plan also increases the total size of the spectrum, to 194 MHz, by adding 5 MHz of additional spectrum from below 2500 MHz. Channels 1 and 2, from the 2.1 GHz band, are also relocated to this spectrum.

Schools and other spectrum holders have three years to propose plans for transitioning to the new spectrum plan. Transitions must be complete 18 months after issuing a proposal.

The FCC’s decision to maintain the spectrum for educational use is viewed as a positive development, but the commission still could change the rules if schools do not make full use of the spectrum allotted to them.

“Use it or get out of the way for someone else who will,” FCC Chairman Michael Powell said. “The country can’t afford to have such a huge amount of spectrum, so suitable for such a valuable service to so many, go underutilized.”

A common argument among the proposals to change the eligibility of the spectrum was that schools were letting the spectrum go unused. “I think they are wrong, this is your chance, IFTS licensees, to prove them wrong,” Copps said.

Harris, in a conversation with eSchool News, echoed these warnings. “It’s time for the education community to step up to the plate and say I can do this,” she said.



The Federal Communications Commission

Leslie Harris & Associates