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FCC Proposes $47M in Fines for Educational Broadband Services After Sub-Leases

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On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed $47,548,500 in fines against 10 entities that purportedly failed to provide the educational services and other obligations required by their Educational Broadband Service (EBS) spectrum licenses.

The FCC issued Notices of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) against the following entities with forfeiture amounts varying based on the number of alleged violations and the number of days the alleged violations occurred:

The Commission claimed that under relevant FCC rules at the time, the non-local EBS licensees were obligated to reserve “a minimum of 5% of their capacity for educational use, provide at least 20 hours of educational programming per channel per week, and establish a local program committee in each community where it did not have a local presence.” However, according to the FCC, these entities failed to meet these license requirements.

The FCC noted that the foundation of EBS licensing was “that the opportunity to sub-lease spectrum would help incentivize licensees to continue providing educational services via their remaining capacity.” Nevertheless, the Commission claimed that these 10 entities sub-leased their spectrum for their financial benefit, but failed to ensure they continued to meet the EBS educational programming requirements.

“Our actions underline the Commission’s ongoing expectation that all FCC licensees must meet their commitments to the American public,” FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Rosemary Harold said. “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 FCC added that it “recently transformed the 2.5 GHz band in which EBS licensees operated to make all of this vital mid-band spectrum available for advanced wireless services, including 5G.” The Commission stated that for the 50 years that the EBS license rules were in effect, licenses were required to meet the aforementioned requirements. However, as mentioned, the FCC alleged that these 10 entities failed to meet their obligation while rules were in effect for EBS licenses, which they obtained before the rule change. The FCC added that “enforcement of FCC rules in such circumstances is important nonetheless to ensure that licensees take their responsibility seriously.” In October, the FCC granted new spectrum licenses for the 2.5 GHz spectrum band.

The investigation was led by the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau after FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr inquired about the entities’ activities. The NALs provide specific allegations regarding how the 10 entities violated the requirements for their licenses. The FCC noted that it cannot impose a greater monetary policy than what is proposed in the NAL. This proposal is not a final action; the entities will have the opportunity to respond to the allegations.

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