By Katherine Messier, NACEPF and Kristen Perry, Voqal
The digital divide runs wide and deep in the U.S., where 34 million people still lack internet access.
The internet is not only the way we connect with our family and friends – it is also essential for important tasks such as applying for health care, searching for jobs and furthering your education, not to mention paying your bills, checking email and simply Googling. For nonprofits, online access is equally urgent, whether you’re delivering vital resources to low-income families, connecting veterans with housing and job opportunities or working to ensure all children have access to an equal education.
But all too often, institutions that anchor their communities, like nonprofits, libraries and schools, cannot afford the internet access they so desperately need to serve their communities. While there is no single provider or source that can satisfy all of today’s broadband needs, there is one powerful resource that is working to close this digital divide: Educational Broadband Service (EBS).
EBS refers to a specific band of spectrum – radio frequencies used for communication – that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has specifically designated to support education. This spectrum is only licensed to accredited educational institutions, government entities engaged in the formal education of enrolled students or nonprofits that provide educational services. In 2005, the FCC adopted new rules that paved the way for EBS spectrum to be used for wireless broadband service.
NACEPF and Voqal, are two of the largest EBS providers in the country. These two nonprofits have been at the forefront of making EBS available at an unprecedented scale. By negotiating a deal with Clearwire, the first 4G wireless service provider in the country, NACEPF and Voqal became the first EBS licensees to provide affordable, 4G, high-speed internet access throughout the U.S. This agreement remains one of the only EBS programs that supports not only traditional educational institutions, but also invaluable institutions of all types, including libraries, health care organizations and a wide variety of nonprofit organizations.
Given the widespread reach of nonprofits, libraries and schools, just one of these broadband connections has far-reaching social, educational and economic implications. The collective reach of NACEPF and Voqal’s broadband service has improved the lives of an estimated 530,000 individuals, providing them with the connectivity they need to communicate with their child’s teacher, search for new employment, manage their health care and financial needs or stay in touch with family and friends.
Organizations interested in taking advantage of EBS can do so a few ways. Mobile Citizen, a Voqal initiative, provides low-cost wireless 4G internet access nationwide exclusively to nonprofit organizations, educational entities and social welfare agencies. NACEPF deploys its EBS through Mobile Beacon, which provides high-speed, low-cost, mobile internet access to schools, libraries, nonprofits and other community anchor institutions to help them fulfill their missions and maximize their philanthropic impact.
Access to technology has become the backbone of every effort to make our world a better place. NACEPF and Voqal have put their EBS spectrum to use for the greater social good, helping educators and nonprofits provide the critical resources needed for all communities to thrive. Although there is more work to be done to meet today’s broadband needs, EBS is helping to bridge the digital divide, one organization at a time.
Katherine Messier is the founder and Executive Director of Mobile Beacon. In this role, Katherine has spent the last seven years building one of the most digitally-inclusive broadband offers available to meet the connectivity needs of schools, libraries, nonprofits, and other CAIs across the US. Katherine also serves as the director of NACEPF Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and the second largest national educational broadband service (EBS) licensee in the country.
Kristen Perry is the Communications Director for Voqal, She is responsible for setting and guiding the strategy for all Voqal communications. Prior to joining Voqal, Kristen developed and implemented marketing and communication strategies for various organizations from the traditional world of banking to the emerging world of digital products. She holds a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Butler University and a master’s degree in integrated marketing communications from the University of Colorado. Kristen joined Voqal in 2013.