In many areas of the country, particularly areas outside of metropolitan areas, no EBS licenses are authorized on some or all of the 20 EBS channels. This EBS “white space” should be available for the submission of applications for new stations. However, current EBS rules do not provide any opportunity for the submission of applications for new EBS licenses. The last opportunity established by the FCC for filing new station applications was in October 1995.
In 2008, in WT Docket No. 03-66, the FCC initiated a rule making proceeding to adopt a mechanism for licensing new EBS stations in the “white space.” Since that time, NEBSA has been active in submitting proposals for such mechanisms and working to develop consensus in the industry on such a mechanism.
In 2014, a consensus plan was formally submitted to the FCC. The plan was developed and agreed to by NEBSA, the Catholic Technology Network (CTN), the Wireless Communications Association International (WCAI), and the Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network (HITN), in consultation with the EBS and wireless operator communities, as well as FCC staff. The plan is available at this link: https://ecfsapi.fcc.gov/file/7521245411.pdf.
If adopted by the FCC, the plan has the potential to increase the size of many existing EBS station Geographic Service Areas (GSA), and it also offers the chance for qualified educational entities to file for new EBS station licenses.
Under the plan, EBS licensed GSAs going forward would be based on county boundaries rather than on the current system’s 35-mile radius circles.
Licensing of all remaining EBS spectrum in the country would take place in two basic phases. The first phase would be the transition of existing EBS station GSAs to county boundaries by expanding them to the borders of any currently unlicensed areas of such counties existing GSAs now partially cover. The second phase would be several filing windows for applications for new stations on a county-by-county, channel group-by-channel group basis.
The plan seeks to accommodate various interests that have stepped forward in the FCC rule making proceeding. For example, it carves out a special opportunity for Native American tribes to obtain an EBS license covering their tribal lands. Also, in response to parties who sought a real and fair opportunity to file for new licenses, the plan limits incumbent expansion of existing license GSAs and provides a very substantial opportunity for new entrants to seek licenses (there would be 3,947 opportunities for new county-based licenses), and limits the number of applications any party can file in the first general “window” for new station applications.
To simplify FCC processing of applications for new stations and avoid the need to conduct auctions for these licenses, the plan relies on a first-come first-served licensing approach – the first acceptable application to be filed for a particular channel group in a particular county will obtain the license.
Despite having submitted the consensus plan with the FCC in 2014, and having actively urged the FCC to move forward with consideration and adoption of the plan, the FCC has yet to take any action on the matter, or even to request public comment on the plan.