General

President Obama’s ConnectED initiative aims to provide high-speed broadband (as in, 100 Mbps) to every school in America within five years. It’s a worthy — and necessary — goal, but like most major initiatives, it faces the daunting question of funding.

Enter a new proposal from the Center for Boundless Innovation in Technology (CBIT), which, the organization believes, provides a path for making ConnectED a reality. This article from Telecompetitor does a good job of digging into the details of the proposal, but in a nutshell it goes something like this:

Currently, wireless provider Sprint leases 2.5Ghz Educational Broadcast Spectrum (EBS) from numerous educational institutions that hold this resource around the nation.  Under the Center’s proposal, that spectrum — which, according to CBIT, is going unused in 800 counties across America — should be made available through an incentive auction and its proceeds made available to compensate the educational spectrum licensees and fund the President’s ConnectEd initiative. 

It’s rare these days when a proposal can appeal to both the left and the right, yet CBIT’s auction idea has the potential to hit that sweet spot where public good and the free market meet.  Even Sprint stands to benefit since, as Telecompetitor’s Joan Engebretson writes in her article. Citing an argument from CBIT Executive Director Fred Campbell:

“Sprint and other wireless carriers would benefit from this proposal because assigning the EBS spectrum for purely commercial use and assigning the 2.5 GHz white spaces would enhance the value of existing commercial spectrum in the band. In addition, it would give the carriers the opportunity to acquire additional 2.5 GHz spectrum that would be free of educational obligations…”

Whether Sprint would be open to CBIT’s idea remains to be seen — Engebretson’s story doesn’t make it seem very likely — but it’s encouraging that innovative ideas are being floated to fund ConnectED. Bringing high-speed Internet access to every student is too important, so policymakers should weigh the costs and benefits of every creative proposal that offers the hope of bringing the tools of the 21st century digital economy one step closer to America’s students.