EBS Spectrum Licenses

Hey everyone – here’s a recent development from the U.S. that I found quite interesting (and surprising) relating to the side of communications law that governs information infrastructure:

According to this National Law Review article (https://www.natlawreview.com/article/schools-hold-valuable-fcc-spectrum-licenses-now-can-be-sold-fairness-opinion), “starting in 1963, the FCC gave away…spectrum licenses to schools and public television stations for video and data use”. The licenses provided use of a certain spectrum band called the EBS spectrum. According to the article, today “the 2.5 GHz spectrum, called ‘mid-band’ spectrum, is considered ideal for the new 5G mobile service. As an example of the potential value of the EBS spectrum, one analyst estimates that mobile operators may spend as much as $50 billion for 280 MHz of similar 3.7-4.0 GHz mid-band spectrum in an auction scheduled for December 2020.”

The FCC recently removed requirements that the spectrum only be used for educational purposes, which has presented a huge opportunity for educational institutions who hold these licenses. Per the National Law Review article, “because the EBS 2.5 GHz spectrum is highly desired by mobile operators and the licenses held by educational institutions may now be freely conveyed, as opposed to leased, to mobile operators, educational institutions have the opportunity to monetize these valuable intangible assets. Depending on the amount of spectrum held and the population covered by the licenses, the spectrum licenses could be worth many millions of dollars each.”

When I came across this article, it caught my attention because it touched on the regulation of the underlying technology that allows information to be disseminated, rather than the regulation of information content. This story is also interesting to me because it demonstrates how historic decisions that may have seemed inconsequential at the time they were made can have huge impacts in present day. A win for the schools!

– Adam Sanders

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