What is EBS – the beginning

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May 2021

Educational Broadband Service (EBS) started almost 60 years ago.  In 1963 the FCC created 20 microwave TV channels known as the Instructional Television Fixed Service, using the 2.5 GHz band of the wireless radio spectrum. The ITFS name was subsequently changed to Educational Broadband Service. EBS was designed to serve as a means for educational institutions to deliver educational TV to multiple sites within school districts and college campuses.

The 2.5 GHz band (2496-2690 MHz) is the single largest band of contiguous spectrum below 3 gigahertz and has been identified as the prime spectrum for next-generation mobile operations, including fifth-generation mobile (5G). But in the 1970s the FCC realized that most EBS license holders lacked the expertise and capital to make effective use of their EBS spectrum license. 

Concerned by this wasted capacity, the FCC permitted EBS license holders to lease a portion of their spectrum to commercial operators. Fast forward to the 21st century, and we find that some 95% of the EBS spectrum is now leased to mobile telecoms companies, such as T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T. That is, these operators are renting spectrum from schools, colleges, and other educational institutions who own the EBS licenses.

As you’d expect, these wireless operators lease this spectrum because it’s essential for their mobile network coverage. Leases typically include an initial term of 10-15 years, with subsequent renewals that generally amount to 30 years for the total life of the lease. And until 2020, there were only 2 ways for EBS license owners to exploit this valuable spectrum: either use it themselves or lease it to a mobile operator.  This all changed in April 2020 when the FCC implemented Rule 19-62, permitting license owners to actually sell their license to anyone who wants to buy.

The objective from the FCCs point of view was to free up unused (or under-used) spectrum and to allow educational institutions flexibility in monetizing their spectrum. The 2020 rule change has transformed what was effectively a monopoly into a genuine open marketplace for EBS licenses. Before there was demand from just a single wireless operator.  Now there’s the liquidity of multiple potential buyers. And liquidity in any market usually means higher prices are being paid by buyers, compared with illiquid markets.  Which is great news for license holders who may now be interested in selling.