On the books for the FCC’s May Open Meeting will be a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding rule changes to establish commercial eligibility for Educational Broadband Service (EBS) licenses and to “rationalize” the EBS service areas. EBS is not a well-known radio service, so to appreciate the significance of these changes, a little history is in order.
If there is one radio service epitomized by change, it is the EBS. EBS was first conceived in the 1960s as a means for schools to transmit video educational programming to off-campus locations. It was first called the Instructional Television Fixed Service (ITFS), and could be licensed only to accredited schools and nonprofit companies who used the channels to offer formal educational programming to accredited schools. At that time, the ITFS allocation was 168 MHz within the 2.5 GHz, which was a huge allocation, but no one at that time saw any other value in such a “high” frequency.
In the 1980s, Microband Corporation conceived of the concept of “wireless cable” and was able to convince the FCC to allow ITFS licensees to lease their “excess capacity” to wireless cable companies. With 168 MHz, there was considerable excess capacity. In addition, the FCC sawed off 48 MHz of that spectrum and created the MMDS which could be licensed to commercial entities.
As more and more companies went into the wireless cable business and leased ITFS “excess capacity,” the FCC was convinced that these ITFS stations needed protected service areas, not for their core educational transmissions, but to protect wireless cable receivers. So, the FCC gave them 710-mile protected service areas which would correspond to the directionality of the antenna system, but provide a 15-mile radius service area for an omnidirectional antenna system. Eventually, the wireless cable industry convinced the FCC to enlarge the protected service area to 35-mile radius, again to protect wireless cable reception at more remote points. Then the wireless cable industry convinced the FCC to allow digital transmissions over ITFS channels, again for the benefit of the wireless cable industry. Continue Reading