The FCC proposed a total of nearly $50 million in fines against 10 Educational Broadband Service (EBS) licensees for allegedly not providing those products.
Under applicable FCC rules at the time, non-local EBS 2.5 GHz licensees were required to reserve a minimum of 5 percent of their capacity for educational use, provide at least 20 hours of educational programing per channel per week, and establish a local program committee in each community where it did not have a local presence. The 10 entities, which now face a combined $47,548,500 in proposed fines, apparently failed to meet these fundamental obligations attached to their licenses.
“Our actions underline the Commission’s ongoing expectation that all FCC licensees must meet their commitments to the American public,” said Enforcement Bureau Chief Rosemary Harold. “These parties apparently profited from their licenses without also providing measurable and verifiable support for the educational goals that EBS licenses were designed to serve. Disregard for license obligations is unacceptable.”
The premise of the EBS licensing regime was that the opportunity to sub-lease spectrum would help incentivize licensees to continue providing educational services via their remaining capacity. The cited groups sub-leased the spectrum to their substantial financial benefit, but apparently failed to meet their obligation to support the education of students in their communities of license. The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau began an investigation into the apparent misuse of this spectrum following FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr’s inquiries to the entities about their activities.
Carr supports the newest action, noting the Notices of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture “mark an important step in the FCC’s work to hold licensees accountable for fulfilling the public interest obligations that were an integral part of their authorizations.” In 2019, he said, “I discovered that many of these national organizations were using these valuable public airwaves for activities far removed from kids and schools. They were reaping millions of dollars in financial benefits from this free spectrum while apparently failing to meet their obligations under the law. In at least several cases, they were essentially liquidating the spectrum and spending the cash on pet projects.”
The FCC recently transformed the 2.5 GHz band in which EBS licensees operated to make the mid-band spectrum available for advanced wireless services, including 5G. For the 50 years, the FCC consistently required EBS licensees to meet educational obligations. The parties facing proposed fines—all of whom obtained their EBS licenses before the recent rule change—apparently failed to meet the obligations while they still were in effect, noted the Enforcement Bureau.
The proposed fines issued Thursday by a vote of the Commission are listed below. The proposed monetary penalties were based on the number of apparent violations and the number of days those apparent violations took place for each license held by a licensee.
- Clarendon Foundation, Inc. – $3,346,000 (NAL)
- Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network – $14,013,000 (NAL)
- National Conference on Citizenship – $1,590,000 (NAL)
- North American Catholic Educational Programming Foundation – $8,268,000 (NAL)
- Northern Arizona University Foundation – $5,485,000 (NAL)
- Rockne Educational Television, Inc. and The Learning Paradigm, Inc. – $3,975,000 (NAL)
- Shekinah Network – $6,377,500 (NAL)
- Views on Learning, Inc. – $2,745,000 (NAL)
- Voqal USA – $1,749,000 (NAL)
The parties will be given an opportunity to respond to the proposed NALs. The agency will consider the parties’ submissions of evidence and legal arguments before acting further to resolve the matter.
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