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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) along with Congressman Don Bacon (Neb.-02) and Congressman Adrian Smith (Neb.-03) sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai supporting a statewide proposal from the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE), State Office of the CIO (OCIO), and Nebraska Educational Telecommunications (NET) that would help Nebraska take advantage of wireless frequencies to fill broadband connectivity gaps. 

New wireless licenses for the 2.5 GHz Educational Broadband Service (EBS) spectrum band have largely been frozen since the 1990s. With advances in technology over the past two decades, EBS spectrum can be put to better use to connect rural Nebraska students and communities across the state. 

The FCC is looking at modernizing EBS spectrum to promote more efficient use. The delegation’s letter highlights the important opportunity EBS frequencies pose for rural America, especially in Nebraska given the state’s existing infrastructure. 

The full text of the letter to Chairman Pai is below. Click here for a PDF. 

June 18, 2019

The Honorable Ajit V. Pai
Chairman 
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, Southwest
Washington, D.C. 20554

Dear Chairman Pai, 

We appreciate the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC’s) decision to open a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) to revitalize Educational Broadband Service (EBS) licenses and make spectrum more readily available for wireless services. We strongly support your commitment to wireless network buildout and addressing the nation’s broadband needs. This vitally important work should include making new EBS licenses available to educational entities that could put them to work as the Commission originally had envisioned. 

Wireless is an integral component of Nebraska’s broadband strategy, especially in our most rural communities. Approximately 64 percent of our 244 school districts have fewer than 500 students K-12. More than half of our school districts occupy a single building. Outside of Douglas County, most of these students’ homes are in areas with fewer than five people per square mile. Connecting these students to broadband access they need for homework and other online learning opportunities has been a longstanding challenge. Nearly 20 percent of Nebraska students lack wired internet access at home or are underserved, with internet connections significantly below the FCC’s 25Mbps/3Mbps benchmark.

Nebraska is particularly well positioned to leverage EBS licenses. The State Office of the Chief Information Officer and the University of Nebraska jointly manage Network Nebraska, a statewide network interconnecting schools and colleges that was created by the Nebraska Legislature in 2007. New EBS licenses could extend Network Nebraska’s broadband backbone to connect more students to rich learning opportunities, including helping them acquire the skills they will need after graduation. 

In promoting new EBS licensing opportunities for educational entities, we request that the Commission’s updated EBS rules permit state-level agencies, such as the Nebraska Department of Education, to acquire EBS licenses for the purpose of implementing statewide solutions that reach rural students. As described in the joint comments filed by the Nebraska Department of Education, Nebraska Educational Television, and the State of Nebraska Office of the Chief Information Officer, we encourage the Commission to consider allowing a state agency to qualify under the definition of "local presence" to enable consistent statewide planning and execution. State Education Agencies are by their nature local to every community and school district.  

EBS can help Nebraska close persistent broadband gaps for students, especially in our most isolated rural communities. New EBS licenses will strengthen the state’s existing broadband connectivity partnerships, like Network Nebraska. We appreciate your attention to this important matter. Thank you for your consideration of this request.

 Sincerely,

Deb Fischer
Ben Sasse 
Don Bacon
Adrian Smith